It happens every year. Yet, as with childbirth, I forget what it was like last time. This enables me to look blissfully forward to the beginning of every new school year. Cool weather, new crayons, quiet mornings. What's not to love?
Actually, don't ask him, because it won't get you anywhere. Like a good writer, he will show rather than tell you that he is not happy about the start of school.
I suppose some little part of my brain retained a memory shard of what starting school is like for Benjamin, because this year, when he was all ready to leave on the first day, he wanted to play cards with me until it was time to go. I said that would be fine, but then something made me say, offhandedly, "Ben, why don't we get our sneakers on too so that we're completely ready to walk out the door? Then we can play right up until the last minute!" He agreed and went to get his sneakers. But they weren't by the door. And they weren't in the playroom.
Or his bedroom. Or the living room. Or his brother's room. They weren't even in the bathroom, and I know because I looked through every room and closet of the house. Three times.
As luck would have it, I had put several pairs of sneakers by the front door, in various sizes, since Ben and his brother have a bad habit of outgrowing things when I'm not looking. After two tries, we found a pair that fit perfectly and had about five minutes left to play cards. Then off he went on his new bus, with his new backpack, to his new school.
At the end of a very productive day, I walked out to meet him at the bus stop. He looked OK as he got off the bus, but when I asked him how his day was, he didn't give me his big smile and trademark, "GREAT!" with a thumbs up. I figured he had a long day and a lot to absorb, so we went home for a special after-school snack of milk and cookies before checking out the homework situation.
"I just have to read for 30 minutes," Ben said.
"Great! Let's get it out of the way before dinner. What would you like to read?"
"Mom, I'm still hungry."
"OK, here are some apple slices. Now. Do you want to read in your room or here in the living room."
"Mom, it's my turn to feed Bailey."
"OK, but then come on up and read while I start dinner."
He came back upstairs. "Mom, I have to go to the bathroom."
I was beginning to see a pattern. When I pressed him, all the tension of the day came out. Shouting, tears, demands, refusals and, of course, an 'I hate school!' to make sure I got the point.
Needless to say the reading never got done. Whether it's because Ben feels like he has to be as smart in third grade as his brother is (even though his brother is in sixth grade), or if he misses me or just doesn't adapt to change easily, he fights the routine of the new school year every September. Perhaps it's a combination of things, but he is so stubborn that when he makes up his mind about something, he makes it up 100%. There is no in between for Ben--no flexibility--which means the rest of us have to be extra flexible to help him ease into the new situation.
And I was very proud that I remembered this on the first day of school, rather than after a week of battling with him. I was able to talk to him about it, give him extra love and attention and be a bit more flexible myself, which is no small feat.
Miraculously (coincidentally?), the missing sneakers turned up right by the front door some time before dinner, but no one knew where they came from. Maybe it was a sign that Ben is loosening up a little, and will adjust to school after a few days this year, instead of a few weeks. Or maybe I'm just being blissfully optimistic again.
Until I know for sure, maybe I'll just keep his shoes under my bed.