Emma’s new school begins Thursday. I’m grateful for this because the pulling sensation in my stomach coupled with the constriction in my chest is increasing with each passing day. As awful as that feels, it’s a familiar feeling, one I know to identify as anxiety and it feels better than the feeling of fear AND anxiety I’m going to feel Thursday morning when Emma looks at me with abject terror and says, “Please Mommy. I don’t want to go to new school. We go together. You and me together.”
When I explain to Emma, as I have every day for the past two weeks, that I will be with her, when I explain that I am going to go into her classroom with her to meet her teachers for the first time, because the school has not returned any of my phone calls or emails since we returned from Colorado, when they explain how busy they’ve been, when they say that the assistant principal did, after all, reach out to me and whose name, phone number and email address I scribbled on a piece of paper because I was in Jerusalem at the time and cannot find that scrap of paper, I will nod my head.
I will hand someone the letter I’ve written about Emma so they can better help her and understand what she needs. The letter that Emma would not participate in writing with me, but instead wandered off, insisting that she be able to watch the Hubble Imax theatre movie in our bedroom instead. I will thrust that letter into her teacher’s hands and hope she will get around to reading it. None of this is happening the way I envisioned it. None of my plans, while in Colorado have been put into action because the school was closed, not a soul was around by the time we returned to the city. So I will make some utterance of understanding, just as I did two minutes ago when I finally got through to the Office of Public Transportation who was unaware Emma was attending a new school, which means there will not be a bus for her until this gets straightened out. It will require a dozen more phone calls to her new school who hasn’t picked up their phone, a dozen more messages like the one I left this morning will be left, and finally I will physically go to the school and find someone to speak to face to face because leaving endless messages on various extensions is an exercise in futility. I know this.
In between writing this post I will pick up the phone and call several more times, just in case, just on the off-chance an actual human being will pick up and miraculously connect me to someone who knows that Emma is enrolled in their school and will be kind enough and compassionate enough to understand how big a deal this is for her. Someone who will understand the enormity of this next step in Emma’s life. Someone who will hear me when I say she is anxious. Someone who will not judge me for wanting to ease Emma into her new school and will be kind to both Emma and me when we arrive. Someone who will agree to work with me in these next few days or weeks, or however long it might take before that anxiety, that terror subsides. Someone who will honor those feelings and not dismiss them. And in the meantime while I try desperately to find that person who may not exist, I can, at the very least, be that person for my daughter.
I am walking that precarious fine line of honoring her feelings, while not changing the subject or saying anything that might encourage more fear and anxiety. Identifying my own feelings, helps me in keeping my own overwhelm at bay, so that I might better help Em manage her own. I try to reassure Emma, but not promise things I cannot know or keep. This requires finesse, calm, tact, a level head, the knowledge of when to remain quiet and when to speak, this requires things I do not possess, but am trying to learn.
“I don’t want to go to a new school,” Emma said again yesterday.
“It’s scary to go somewhere new,” I answered as she put her head on my shoulder.
Em nodded, ”I don’t like the new school. I’m scared, Mommy.”
“New things can be scary, Emmy. But on Thursday I’m going to go with you. I’m going to meet your new teachers with you. And then when you are safe, I’m going to go for just a little while and then I’ll come back and we’ll go somewhere together. Somewhere fun. Where would you like to go?”
“Mommy will be right back.”
“That’s right. Where would you like to go after your first day of school?”
I want to go to the big carousel and the zoo,” Emma said.
“Okay. That’s what we’ll do then,” I promised. I’ve cleared my calendar for both Thursday and Friday. I am planning on hanging around the vicinity of her new school, I will be there to pick her up, I will go with her in the morning, I will photograph her bus driver and the bus, her teachers, her classroom, her classmates. I will go over these photographs with her on the weekend. It will take what it takes. I can’t remove her fears, but I can try to ease them.
Over the weekend I took Em shopping for a new dress to wear to school. We didn’t find one, but we did find some other things for her to wear. On the way to the store Emma stopped in front of a shop window and said, “Look! It’s a Buddha. It’s a wonderful Buddha!”
And in that moment we were both happy.