Friday, September 13, 2013

Back (In Time) To School

Every year, I can count on certain things: the impatience for routines to begin again in the week before Labor Day; the craziness of birthdays and holidays from October through December, and the regression of my youngest child in the two weeks after school actually begins.

I admit I was a little slow on the uptake with the last one. It took me a couple of years to see the change in Ben's behavior for what it was, then remember and recognize it again every following year.

At first I thought it was a stage, likely prior to a growth spurt, with no connection to the calendar year. After all, at the end of summer, the kids are usually as excited as I am for the start of school. Why, then, would its actual arrival cause distress?

Starting school with a new teacher can be exciting, but it can also be stressful. And for a kid who often feels deeply and articulates minimally (i.e. "How was your day?" "Great!"), burying that stress will bring out negative behaviors. Ben has been asking to play video games more often than usual, likely in an attempt to escape the new world of uncertainty and dive into a universe he can control. He's also been requesting a nightly bedtime story and having trouble falling asleep before 10:30, despite being in bed by 9. Last night I attended the middle school open house. When I got home at 9:45, I was exhausted, but he was still awake and asked me to lay down with him. I really just wanted to crawl into my own bed but, thankfully, I remembered how this went last year, so I said yes. He was asleep in less than 10 minutes.

As the boys get older and more independent, needing me less and less for the physical things, it's easy to let the little, emotional hugs from their childhood slip away. Except for September, bedtime stories together have become a thing of the past. But reading stories by William Steig, Rosemary Wells and H.A. Rey before tucking him in is something I always enjoyed as much as Ben. In fact, we've kept many of these books on his shelves because we love them so much, we couldn't bear to give them away. And curling up beside my baby and looking at his long eyelashes and porcelain skin while he sleeps reminds me of his first year, when those twilight cries came every night. I would take him from his crib, we'd sit in the rocking chair by the window and I'd sing to him to try to get him back to sleep. It was a part of our lives that feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago at once.

All too soon, the house will be filled with deep-voiced boys stomping in and out for snacks on their way from one thing to another. "Hi Mom, bye Mom" will be a common refrain, and they will no longer need me for even the emotional hugs anymore. I need to remind myself of this when it's way past bedtime and Ben is asking for one more story, when I'm tired and ready for bed myself and he is asking me to lay down with him.

I won't remember how many times I said 'no' to my children once they're gone, or feel the benefits of an extra 20 minutes sleep here or there. But they will have the security of having gotten the things they needed when they needed them, and I will have the memories of all the times I said 'yes'.