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Kindergarten. It’s coming. Less than two weeks from today in fact, in the middle of August, because that’s how they roll where we live. The start of school feels like an overlord, dictating much of what we do during the last few weeks of unstructured time. There are supplies to buy and preschool buddies to meet up with a few more times and fun stuff to do to distract my kid from the pain of what’s coming. Herewith, ten snapshots of living with the Start of School Overlord, because I tried and tried to come up with some clever metaphor for how these weeks are going and feeling, and it just didn’t work.

1. The Boo has been to his new school half a dozen times, and I’ve told him as much as I can about what to expect. But still, he is afraid. He keeps saying he doesn’t want to go because he wants to stay with me. Then the other day he put a twist on it, declaring tearfully that he wants me to stay with him at school all day.

2. I took him to pick out a new backpack because his preschool one is too small to fit a file folder — oh my God do kindergarteners do homework?! Anyway. He was interested in anything but the backpacks, unresponsive when I asked if he liked this one or that one. He’s in denial, I thought, and I patiently put a couple of reasonable choices right smack in front of him. He chose one with outer space stuff all over it. Inside, on the part that will rest on his back, it says “I am invincible.”

3. I keep thinking about the sand at the Boo’s preschool. Sand in a massive area on the playground, sand in small boxes on the play terrace off the classrooms. Sand that would not stop coming out of his shoes no matter how viciously I smacked them on the blacktop. It blanketed the carpet in my car on the many days I forgot to dump it out of his shoes before he got in. Even when I did dump it out, it would fall out of his socks and drop from between his toes as he gleefully cleaned them on the way home, giggling and tickling his own feet. It was everywhere, it drove me nuts, and midway through his final year at the school, I began to realize how soon I’d be free of The Sand. There is no sand at his kindergarten. And then I realized there will probably always be sand in the carpet of my car, so part of his preschool will be with us as long as we have this car. And then I started crying.

4. Ugh, my dreams, all variations on the theme of not being able to find or help my kid. Sometimes I can see him, sometimes not, but I’m trying to get to him, and failing. Once I dreamed that I took him to one of my college classes with me but didn’t bring anything for him to do or eat. Thanks, subconscious, for the subtle hint!

5. I asked the Boo about a month ago if he wanted to go shopping for a special outfit for the first day of school. He said, “Why would I want to do that?”

6. One day at a park the mother of a toddler asked me, “What’s it like getting ready for Kindergarten?” and I just started laughing.

7. The Boo has regressed a bit, mostly in terms of how he handles being upset and being told no. One day he screamed at me because I went up the basement steps too far in front of him. Yikes, I thought, is my kid possessed? Around that time a Facebook friend posted an article on ways redirect and defuse temper tantrums in three- and four-year-olds, and I’ve been using the techniques with some success. And sometimes I just have to let him spin out for a while. It’s exhausting.

8. We met one of the kindergarten teachers at the school during a play date event. Just after we introduced ourselves, the Boo was hit on the head by a water bottle being tossed around by a couple of older kids. The teacher calmly but firmly told them to cut it out. Later when I asked the Boo what he thought of the teacher he said, “She’s nice! She was even nice when she was telling those kids to stop throwing the bottle!”

9. The Boo knows about homeschooling and he’s pretty sure he wants to be an engineer. The other day he asked me, “Can I do homeschooling and still be an engineer or will I still have to go to college?”

10. Yesterday afternoon, after we ran through our Kindergarten goodbye ritual, the Boo asked me to pretend to be all his teachers in turn. He got the list of teachers we keep on the fridge and I went into the closet to transform into each one. I did a one-minute mock gym, art, music and Spanish class, then turned back into myself and said, “How was your day?” “Good!” he said. 

My Little Brony

There we were at an awesome birthday party with the World’s Best Balloon Twister, and the Boo was completely uninterested in the guy’s insane skills.  

Me: He can make anything for you! Anything! What would you like?

Boo: <Runs back to the bounce house.>

Ten minutes go by.

Me: Hey Boo, do you want a balloon animal? He really can make anything…

Boo: When are we having cake?

Ten more minutes go by. The World’s Best Balloon Twister announces last call and I laugh, thinking about what that used to mean to me. 

Me: Honey, seriously, if you want a balloon animal now is the time!

Boo: Is it time for cake yet?

Me: How about… um… something from My Little Pony? (His favorite show, despite the puzzled reactions he gets when he tells people that’s what he watches.)

Boo: Twilight Sparkle?

Me: Sounds good. Just go tell him what you want.

Boo: Can you do it?

People, I did it. I delivered my kid’s balloon animal order so he could continue obsessing over cake and running around like a lunatic. And the World’s Best Balloon Twister did an awesome job, and the Boo loved that thing. I mean, really loved it. Slept with it. Brought it down for breakfast. Watched My Little Pony with it. 

And then it began to deflate and look rather sad:


But still, he loved on it and insisted it be tucked in with him for rest time and bed time. He redid the thing’s cutie marks, as you can see in the photo above. 

And then it began to look so sad that I thought about getting him a replacement because his love for Twilight was strong and true even though she had become somewhat revolting to adult eyes. I scanned a few options online and then got distracted by dishes/laundry/cooking/childcare.

But then, as I was trolling the aisles of Target, I saw it. One lonely Twilight Sparkle among a herd of Rainbow Dashes. I googled “twilight sparkle cutie mark” to confirm I had the right one, and then nabbed it. 


I put it in the Boo’s booster seat just before summer camp pick-up time and told him I had a surprise for him in the car. Biggest. Smile. Ever. Followed by the sweetest, most sincere thank you. 

And now he has a buddy that will never deflate — plus he can put band-aids on her:

The only downside to this story: Now he wants me to get all the other ones for him. 

Painting Lessons

I’ve been painting a bedframe for the Boo — he’s at the age where he enjoys deciding what his stuff should look like, and I like painting. However. I’m a Virgo, and an introvert, and I really like to paint alone. And my son is five and likes to “help.” This is a trait I want to encourage, so I decided to suck up my control issues and paint with my kid.

And so there we were in the basement, bright yellow paint on our brushes (because he wants it to be “all the colors of the rainbow,” starting with YELLOW). I’d put down an old shower curtain liner, and we were both in painting clothes. He was painting low, and I was painting high, and everything was peachy. Until I spotted my kid’s bright yellow toes. “I have paint on my toes, Mama!”

“I see that, yes. Okay, just stay on the plastic until I wipe them off.”

Then, naturally, he started moving toward the carpet.

And that’s when my Virgo brain screamed “OH MY GOD THERE’S GOING TO BE PAINT ON THE CARPET” and exploded a little bit. Then I yelled at my kid. And I grabbed his arm. And of course he cried because his mother was going insane right in front of him.

I immediately felt like a big stupid turd. He wouldn’t paint with me after that, instead drifting away to play by himself.

I felt like an even bigger, stupider turd when I took a good look at where we were: a basement room we jokingly refer to as “the 1971 doctor’s office,” with cheap, nasty old carpet that we plan to replace. Who cares, you Virgo freak? Come on!

A few days later we were back at it, and I had made a promise to myself to be more chilled out about the whole painting with a kid thing. I had the headboard up against the wall. The Boo wanted to help with touch-ups. I gave him a tiny art paintbrush thinking he’d be fine with that.

Then he said something like “oops.” I turned to see a giant splatter of lovely purple paint on the wall. I can’t remember exactly what either of us said right afterwards because my brain excludes details like that when it’s working overtime to keep my Virgo issues at bay. I do recall that I took a deep breath, and that the Boo said he wanted to help clean it up.

I exhaled and said, “Oh honey, it’s not worth it. It’ll just smear everywhere, and anyway it looks much better than it did before.”

And you know? It really does. Because every time I look at it, I see better decisions and progress and love.

Summer Camp Blues


“I think it’s a preemptive strike for starting Kindergarten.”

My husband gave me a doubtful look. All three of us were snuggled on the bed, with the Boo nestled as close to me as he could get. He’d been tearily bemoaning this week’s summer camp experience: There are different teachers! Different kids! I really missed you Mama and then I was just really sad! He told me he was sad until they went out to the playground. That’s two solid hours of sadness. He told me he couldn’t stop crying and I cringed as I told him I still remember how scary that felt to me as a kid. 

His deluge of emotion took us by surprise because he’s going to summer camp at the preschool he’s attended for the past three years, and he has several close school buddies there with him. But then I thought, maybe he’s practicing for Kindergarten by going through all the same mechanisms he’ll need to cope with that sea change in a few months. Kind of like anticipatory grief, a recognized syndrome that I experienced when my dad died, slowly, following a massive stroke. 

The Boo is keenly aware that his school days are on the horizon — he enjoys looking at the calendar to see what’s already happened and what’s coming up, and his first day of school is already marked in red Sharpie. We’ve visited the school for his skills assessment (!) and we drive by to say hi to the building every now and then. 

When I told him they have a preview day so he can meet his teacher and find his classroom, he said, “Why would I want to do that?” When I asked if he wanted to shop for a first day of Kindergarten outfit, he shouted “No!” in an offended tone and then asked why I had suggested it. 

Thinking back, these are telling reactions, and classic kid strategy: If I hide my face, you can’t see me. If I refuse to acknowledge the idea of starting school, it won’t happen. I can’t hear you, LA LA LA! Kindergarten starts in roughly eight weeks, and there’s so much he doesn’t understand about it that it may as well be a trip to Mars. But summer camp is happening right now, providing a handy proving ground for What To Do When Things Change. 

My child’s strategies this week have consisted mostly of what I think of as the Velcro Goodbye. On Tuesday morning he begged to stay with me; I nearly had to drag him out of the car. In the classroom, he needed at least a dozen hugs and snuggles and kisses, asking for “one more” over and over through near-sobs. I wiped his tears away and then put a tissue in his pocket in case he needed it later. The whole process took about 15 minutes (whereas last week he turned to play 30 seconds after we walked in). I managed to hold it together while I was with him, but fell apart as soon as I walked out of the building and spent the rest of the day wandering around in a headachey daze.

Wednesday morning was better, but he was still teary and wanted me to stay in his classroom to cuddle with him and then give him umpteen hugs and then wipe his tears and then give him a tissue to put in his pocket. 

Thursday morning, I had to scurry back to the house for an appointment, so I prepared him for a shorter Velcro Goodbye. He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it. No tears, maybe five minutes of cuddling and five hugs (we counted them down together) and then he turned to play with another boy as I was leaving. 

All week, I’d been giving the Boo pep talks and telling him I know he can handle this challenge. I was honestly a little frustrated that my brainwashing wasn’t working. But now, because he did the grunt work of getting through it, he knows he can handle it.

State of the Boo: Five

You are a natural born maker; this is a recent creation.

You are five years old.

You make emphatic gestures with your hands when you talk about something that excites you.

You love watching This Old House with Daddy and have a hard time understanding why there isn’t always a new episode to watch.

You also love watching car repair videos posted by Chris Fix, and consequently you recently asked Mama if she had a closed system transmission, which made her laugh, which made you a little bit angry.

You enjoy saying “wonky.”

You adore visiting Menard’s and Home Depot to spend quality time with the grills, snow blowers and washing machines. Halfway home from our last such excursion, you got upset that you forgot to visit the giant saw they use to custom cut lumber.

You insist on Mama chanting “happy dreams” right before she leaves your room at bedtime.

You want to know about how family and friends have died. Consequently you know what a stroke is, and that cancer is largely a mystery.

You love going to the symphony, and tried playing cymbals the last time you went.

You recently told Mama to use her words instead of yelling. Mama replied that she tries very hard to do that every day, but when she’s been asking the Boo to get his socks and shoes on for ten minutes, well…

You are already sad about leaving your best friend behind when you go to kindergarten.

You once again requested cake, and family to share it with, for your birthday party.

You get mad if we don’t let you help do things around the house.

You know the names of our both our old and new presidents.

You needed new shoes the week before Christmas, and were delighted to be able to look for, choose, and order them online.

You like watching Design Squad Nation, where teams of teenagers compete to solve specific engineering challenges. You were shocked to learn that the teenagers are not grownups, and you are quick to notice which teenager has an attitude problem.

You enjoy cooking with Mama, and increasingly want to be completely in charge of the process.

You know what “mise en place” means.

You spend a lot of time at your work table, often pretending to run experiments you’ve seen on Bill Nye the Science Guy or mumbling things about how to fix an engine.

You still enjoy a largely beige diet, though you are now more willing to try new things.

You shocked the pants off Mama by insisting on bringing broccoli for the class snack. You were upset that one kid told you never to bring it again; you haven’t.

 

You are five years old, and your curiosity knows no bounds.

Why so stingy with the writing space?

1. It is entirely possible to overbrine a bone-in turkey breast. Some call it curing. I call it too salty. Try 12 hours next year. 

2. Half a recipe of stuffing will be more than enough for three adults. We’re not THAT much of a carb family.

3. Maybe skip the mimosas, they made you really tired when it was crunch time. 

4. This chocolate pumpkin pie is a keeper. We did half a recipe and used 1/8 t. cayenne. Oh, and just pitch the four ounces of leftover evaporated milk, because nobody is going to touch that nasty stuff. 

5. This apple-sausage stuffing was really bready and bland. Start with Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix next year, and reduce the amount of bread. 

6. The pumpkin cinnamon rolls were tasty and easy (can’t find the recipe online, weird, oh well) but need a bit more punch. Add brown sugar and chopped pecans to the filling, and use orange juice and zest for the glaze base (though using heavy cream was very tasty). And look how pretty:

7. Put your Virgo issues in a drawer and let the kid make a mess when he helps cook. The beams of happiness are well worth a few minutes of cleanup.

8. The holiday tablecloth is in the linen closet, but it might be hidden under a stack of towels. But hey, if you want to spend half an hour looking for it in other places, go right ahead. 

9. Stop, look, feel, absorb. This day is magic. Bottle as much as you can. 

10. Turn off the Macy’s parade after the Rockettes; it’s just a three-hour commercial for Broadway and TV shows. With 8,000 commercials between the segments. Which are… commercials!

11. You were so right to decide against dusting. Nobody noticed, least of all you. Well done, you.

12. Exchanging breakfast pastries with a neighbor was really nice. Do that again.

13. If we settle on that Valpolicella next year, open it an hour before supper — it needs at least that much breathing time. 

14. Lactose intolerance never takes a day off. Pick up some Cool Whip, which you like anyway. Also, research substituting coconut or almond milk for the milks in the pie. Maybe do a practice pie just to be on the safe side. 

What I Learned in India

Mosquito nets: less romantic than you think.


I’ve been to southern India five times in eight years (my husband is from there), twice with a small child. I learn a few new things each time; here’s the baker’s dozen list for this trip.

1. If you bring white linen pants to India, you will look fabulous for approximately five minutes. Then you will look like a wrinkly, dusty mess. But if you’re willing to put in the necessary time hand-washing them, then by all means, bring your silly white linen pants to India. 

2. Bring the extra bottle of insect repellent. Indian insect repellent products are stinky and/or less effective than what we brought (and ran out of). 

3. I no longer get culture shock here, though I’m still curious about cultural differences — and I still get homesick. 

4. Divali in India is very fun, and very loud. Bring good earplugs and a large bottle of Benadryl, or be prepared to stay up all night watching/listening to fireworks go off way closer than seems safe. 

5. Oatmeal, peanut butter, almond milk, wheat bread, Dove soap galore, and Sensodyne toothpaste are available for purchase in southern India. Graham crackers, Cheerios and NutriGrain bars are not available, so pack what you need if you bring a picky eater (ours tried new foods there, but didn’t fall in love with anything substantial).

6. Indian bananas are divine. So many different kinds, and they all taste different. It’s almost a fair price to pay for three weeks without a crunchy vegetable. 

7. Watching the light in an Indian person’s eyes as they greet a child is a transformative experience.

8. The closeness to the natural world can be gross to Western eyes (so many bugs in the house!) but it’s also one of the loveliest things about the country (my mother-in-law feeds a chipmunk and a crow every day, and they yell at her if she’s late).

9. Bottles of makeup must be “burped” before opening mid-flight. Unless you want foundation on the only pair of pants you brought on board. It’s up to you. 

10. Leaving the house/hotel? Bring hand wipes, tissues/toilet paper, snacks, and water. Every time. 

11. Explaining that you can’t have milk/yogurt/paneer because of lactose intolerance will get you some very funny looks. Also responses like, “But we boil our milk!” and “But it’s yogurt!”

12. Taking a preschooler to India is both delightful and nervewracking, especially if the child isn’t good at looking where s/he’s going. 

13. I will probably never be able to decode the various looks I get here. I’m not okay with that, but I’m trying to accept it. 

I'm over 40. I'm at home with a preschooler. Hear me roar.

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