Friday, January 28, 2011

Empty Nest Syndrome... Nine Years Early?

After a restless few hours of sleep last night I woke up around midnight with an upset stomach, cold toes, and an aching heart. It took an hour of staring at the ceiling, tossing around the cat as I flipped from one side to the other, and a cup of chamomile tea with some toast to realize that I missed my kids.

Of course, they were sleeping in their rooms next to ours. Of course, we ate dinner together last night, like always, hung out in the living room towards bedtime, Samuel reading the newest Sports Illustrated, Grace working on her math homework, Dave composing some kind of history department thing. And I was restless, which carried over into sleep.

Samuel and Grace went to school--"real" school--for the first time on Tuesday. Samuel is in 6th grade, Grade is in 4th, both have been homeschooled since day one. This year has been challenging, though. They have both yearned for the social aspect of school, the regimentation (really? yes...), the recesses, the sports. I started losing inspiration and steam: it's hard to keep up the good fight when your soldiers are near rebellion. We've held off as long as we could because they have both flourished with homeschooling but we could see that if we were to truly honor their needs we had to let them try out public school.

And so it happened, in a proverbial blink of the eye: I signed them up to start with the new semester, bought school supplies and lunch makings, and delivered them to their schools on Tuesday. It has been bumpy for both kids. A big school with lockers, two floors, lunch time, and multiple teachers threw Samuel off a bit the first day. There is still complaining coming from him about this teacher or that, mostly indicative of his modus operandi when in a new situation: resist, complain, pretend not to care. By this morning, though, even that has eased a bit. But not once has he said he didn't want to go. He gets up early, eats, packs his bag, hops on his bike, rides to his friend's house where he parks his bike and then walks with a group of middle-schoolers the rest of the way. He only wants a half-sandwich in his lunch because he needs to eat fast and get out to play football. He has noticed that he is as smart and even smarter than the kids around him. In other words, my little boy is stretching into this new life with remarkable grace and ease.

Grace has wanted to go to school for much longer than Samuel but surprisingly, she had the roughest time the second morning. Nerves and worries plagued her. Now that she knew what school was, she feared that she wouldn't be able to find the right door to her classroom from the playground; that she wouldn't have time to deal with her retainer and eat in the twenty minutes allowed for lunch; that she hadn't written the expository essay she was sure was due any day; mostly, she worried about not knowing what was expected of her, my poor sweet over-achieving, perfectionist daughter. I walked her to school that second morning, spoke with her teacher, saw that Mrs. Metcalf had thoughtfully provided a planner for Grace to record all her assignments--all the expectations--and knew that this day would be better. And it was. With each day she has blossomed. She laughingly had to shoo Fluffy the cat away from her two mornings in a row because the animals want to go with her. She loves the library at school, the girls with whom she plays four-square at recess, her homeroom teacher. And in the end, she is changing schedules starting on Monday because she has tested into a higher level.

Who says doing "school" a couple hours (or less) a day turns kids into ignorant, anti-social beings? Clearly something worked well, and they are happy, so in turn I must also be glad for them, if not happy, yet.

I had a good cry over my chamomile tea. Realized that I missed my babies: the house is empty, the dog wanders around looking for them, I have no one to eat lunch with or argue with or laugh with. I know that this will ease up. It's a huge transition for me--nearly 12 years of always having them around and now with a poof they're gone most of the day. What triggered my bad night, I realize, is that yesterday Samuel went straight back to his friend's house after school and didn't come home until 5:30. He had a great time, very little homework, no problem. Except that it turns out that I missed him like crazy and didn't realize it until the middle of the night.

I'm busy enough during the day right now. For the first time ever since having kids, I make every morning my time to exercise. I walk the dog along the river for an hour or, like yesterday, up Badger Mountain in the fog and sage brush and beauty of our stark landscape. I've read my silly spy thriller, sipped coffee, run errands, chatted on the phone, visited with the chickens, cleaned house (but not too much), and enjoyed the peace and quiet. But I guess it's normal to have to adjust to this new life, either six years late--had I put the kids in school at age 5--or nine years too early. I actually only have two months of total "leisure" as remarkably I am going back to teaching French at the community college starting spring quarter.

I guess until then I really do need to embrace these days, knit that sweater finally for Dave, read all the books I have piled on my desk, work out, write in this blog, hang out with my friends. And be grateful for the incredible people my kids have turned into, that they are flourishing and solidly confident of both themselves and of my deep and abiding love for them.


Mary said...

I am still adjusting! Both my girls went off to school as 9th graders, by their choice. It is a different experience for kids who know they could come back home, if they really wanted or needed to. Mine have said they are glad to be there now and also glad they didn't go any sooner. Lisa is on track to graduate in June, and both girls get great grades and are well-liked by teachers and peers. As far as grades, I know they aren't the most important thing, but my girls also have demonstrated that you don't have to "do school" in the usual way in order to succeed if you later decide to do school!

Kitchen Mama said...

I totally agree with you. When I think of all the things I used to worry about when I first started homeschooling... Well, hindsight is 20/20. I'm really glad we did it, though, and the door is open for a return if needed. We all needed a little rest from it, though.