“… A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened,Jackie paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave…”
– “Puff, The Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary
Vesta started school today. But it’s worse than it sounds.
We have chosen Waldorf for her first school experience, which is very community focused and parent involved. So, I don’t get to drop her off and then go sob in the car. The first day, I take her to her classroom, attend a parent tea, an all school assembly and then a potluck picnic in the park. I was excited for this school for just this sort of reason: a community of like-minded parents, actively involved in their child’s education, other families to befriend. Today, I wish to God I was just like most people and picked a school I could just drop her off and leave. Today, I wish to God I could have the normal mixed emotions of a parent dropping her child off for the first day of school, smile through tears, both proud and nostalgic. Today, I wish to God, I strapped my infant onto my chest, did my best to help guide Vesta into her classroom and then went to the tea to say “He’s four and a half months. Yeah…not much sleep. He does have a lot of hair! And how old are your kids?”.
But I am not most people and must choose an alternative school. I am not most people and must take my child to school and then stiff upper-lip it through the parent tea, smiling and chatting about our children and dreading the inevitable and truly awful question, “How many children do you have?”. I’m not ready to answer that honestly, especially over and over again, especially today. I am not most people because my infant is a bag of dust in a tin container on the top shelf of my closet .
I can’t just be happy and excited for my daughter who is happy and excited for herself. It can’t just be bittersweet: the joy of seeing her joy, the nerves of seeing her reluctance, the resistance and disbelief at how fast time has flown. It has to be impossible. It has to be the first day of preschool and, quite possibly, the last first-day our family will have, not just nostalgia and time passed but time lost, time without fully living into the experiences of parenting my first child because I expected more. It has to be that another main reason that we chose this school was for more days and longer hours so that I would have some time alone with the baby. It has to be that before he died and I stopped taking my incredibly blessed, lucky and happy life for granted, that I wished for more time to spend on my career, that during my pregnancy I lamented the 3-4 years to come that would set me back that much further, that I wished for “a room of one’s own” daily. It has to be that I got that wish in the most fucked up way possible and that once school starts for real on Monday, I will drag my broken heart to work and try desperately for the comparatively empty passion I have for my work be able to patch it up. The sand bags to my Katrina.
As her first day of school approached and now today, I think almost solely of myself and how I will manage. So much so that I literally did not tell her that she would be going to school the next day, nor make any preparations for it: no extra set of clothes, no inside shoes, no special cup for her classroom, no dish to share for the potluck. I know how much she will love this day, meeting and playing with new friends, and I think only of how I can get out of going. I decide to skip the picnic but as we are leaving, her new friends surround her and ask if she is coming to the park. She is looking up to me for an answer and then back to them without one, as I stand there trying to be the adult, trying to get myself through this so that my daughter can go and do the only thing in the world she wants to right now. As a mother and a woman, I put myself behind others. I would rather their needs and desires be met more than mine. This change, this inability to put the needs and desires of my almost four year old child ahead of my own, is it’s own devastation. I tell her we are going to her cousin’s instead of the park and then thank God she is not older or more socially savvy because she pauses and then turns to tell her friends the happy news. “See you Monday” I say and they say and they go off to the park and we come home, because I lied to my daughter to get myself out of going.
Much of the school assembly was meeting the teachers. Each stands in front of the attentive parents and eager children to talk about what they will learn that year, in the beautifully lyrical and magical way only Waldorf can. The subject teachers are then invited: knitting, Spanish, movement and finally, music. “And now, let’s her that beautiful voice”, says the director of the school to the music teacher who lifts her guitar and begins to sing Puff, The Magic Dragon. By this time, Vesta and I are standing way in the back of the auditorium, as I am waffling about when exactly to make my escape. She has run straight into the edge of a table and I am holding her, embarrassed and bruised, in my arms, swaying back and forth. I begin to sing to her until I hear the words and I am lost in my own despair. She lifts her head from my shoulder and I can see her in my peripheral vision, staring at me wide-eyed, wondering where these tears and gasps have come from. And I remain, unable to parent my living child. I remain, unable to explain to her why Mommy is sad because the whole things sounds so ridiculous when said out loud these days. Because, one day, Jackie Paper doesn’t come back and Puff can no longer be brave, his fearless roar ceased. I remain, standing there in the back of a room full of families, happily greeting the new school year, bawling my eyes out, holding my stunned living child, having lied all morning about how many children I have and about to lie to my living child so that I can escape. And I remain, some shell of my former self. Some new version of my worst self. Some new creature, head bent in sorrow, slipping into my cave.