Lots of things shook me then. I was not easygoing, or free, or happy. Well, unless my little world was put in the proper order. Then life was gilded, filled with beauty and warmth and light and imaginary worlds that I was free to gallop through.
I fought my mother with teeth and tears when it came to going somewhere else besides home after school. She went back to work when we moved to Tennessee from Georgia, having formerly been home all the time (a Brownie leader, a school volunteer, a bake sale baker). Sometimes I’d come off the school bus to find her in the red baked clay and pine tree yard, pulling up weeds or talking to a neighbor. Sometimes she’d be in the kitchen spreading peanut butter on celery sticks for my sister and my after school snack. Sometimes she’d be on the phone with Ohio relatives or childhood friends (whom she still kept in close contact with).
When we moved, she went to work at a nice print shop as a typesetter. She loved the work and she loved her co-workers. I was only in after-care a couple of hours, but oh how those couple of hours stretched. I didn’t play. I didn’t eat the snacks. My parents tried different programs, three in total and paying the enrollment fee anew each time (I realize this now, back then I didn’t know that), reaching and researching and trying to make me happy. There was a lot of effort that went into making me happy in that first year in Tennessee.
In the end it didn’t work out. My mother plea bargained with her boss to work shorter hours, so that she could meet me at the bus stop at 3:05. She promised to get all of her work done before she left. She promised me that she would be there and ready and we could go home and I could play. I think she liked coming home earlier, too. She got things done around the house and worked on more pleasant things. Though I know she had a wonderful time at work, too, her friends there were funny and artistic and smart (one of them I still keep in contact with and whose photography was featured in Far Away).
Eventually I was old enough to stay home for the hour or so until my big sister got off the high school bus. I had my own key (that I often forgot), and plenty of snacks and homework and art supplies and an old typewriter of my mom’s to keep me occupied. Next door lived someone’s grandmother who let me in her house if I forgot my key or locked myself out. We had a spare key, but it was tucked precariously on a beam in the crawlspace, and the crawlspace was filled with jumping cricket spider things that bounced and brushed against your legs and hands if you opened the crawlspace door. If you could get the crawlspace door open in the first place, that is. It was always stuck shut in the humidity of a late afternoon in East Tennessee.
Now I’m working, and my son is going to an afterschool care program. A really fun one, too. He gets to swim and have dance parties and they learn about health and fitness and play sports (it’s at the local Y). His best friend (since babyhood) is there with him and they’re officially two boy peas in a boy pea pod. I’ve kept really positive about the whole thing (on the outside) but the fact is, like all working parents, we get home later, I have less time with him, and I miss him. I’m not sad in the hours that he’s in school, he’s learning and with friends (he’s learning and with friends in aftercare, too).
I wasn’t sad to be in school when I was his age, either. I loved it. My mom tells a story about me from then. My teacher had told her that when it was time to line up for the aftercare buses (or “home” buses) that my entire personality changed. My shoulders drooped and my eyes filled up and I stopped talking all together. Five minutes earlier I was a chatterbox, a fairy, a normal six year old little girl. School energized me, aftercare drained me.
He seems to love school, too. He’s studious and his teachers adore him and he’s silly with his buddies. He’s learning and with friends in aftercare, too. Maybe I’m mourning for something that doesn’t exist, or for some sadness that existed 25 years ago. He’s not me.
I don’t think he’s sad about going to aftercare, though he sometimes expresses that he wishes he were in the “car pick up line again when we came home and played and went places” and in the past few days he’s expressed that he likes hanging out with Logan but doesn’t want to do aftercare anymore. He understands that I am working now. He doesn’t sulk and refuse to have fun, though, like I did at his age. He’s fine.
I’m the one with a lump in my throat. An identical lump to the one I had at his age, when I sulked in a tempera-paint smelling corner of Kindercare until my mom or dad came to get me. I know he’s not like that. I know his days aren’t like that. But I’m still like that. Forever a basket case.