The crying game

My daughter started preschool last week. Needless to say, by the end of the five days, I was utterly wrung out. Never were the words “Thank God It’s Friday” (TGIF) felt more deeply by two people.

I’ve been stressed out about her starting school for a ridiculously long time. First, as I’ve mentioned earlier in columns, I obsessed about the choice of school and went round and round in circles checking them out. Multiple times. And changed my mind. Multiple times. To give you an idea of how nuts I made myself, the night before her first day of school, I actually had a nightmare that I got confused and took her to the wrong school. We were stuck there and couldn’t get to the right school in time… there were impossible-to-scale slopes, dense jungles and a dragon or two involved. I woke up disoriented and in a cold sweat. To put this in perspective, the last time I had a nightmare like that, it was 15 years ago, during my board exams, when I dreamt that I went to the wrong centre and got the wrong subject paper and failed miserably. Only, this was worse.

I wasn’t much better while I was awake. My feelings about her going to school swung wildly from elation (“Yes! Actual time to myself without toddler interruptions!”) to panic (“Oh my god! I can’t send her yet… she’s just a baby!”) as D-Day got closer. The morning arrived and, nightmare still fresh in my head, I was a mass of jangling nerves. I was wildly over-prepared but ended up getting late anyway, since I changed my daughter’s outfit three times, the last time while we were standing outside the front door. That was the point at which my husband just threw in the towel. Or maybe it was when I stopped outside the elevator and fixed her hair for the fifth time. This was just utterly bizarre behaviour for me. I usually just throw on the first thing I see and am ready to go in five minutes. And I’m never nervous.

Yet here I was, tummy knotted up in tension, handbag filled with discarded clothes and pink clips, all because my toddler was going for her first day of school. You’re being ridiculous, I told myself. In response, my stomach gave one more nervous flip.

My daughter, by comparison, was quite sunny about the whole thing. She was excited about going to school like her friends. She was curious to see what it’s all about. After all, we’d been talking about it for months and months. And so the first couple of days went by smoothly. She participated in the activities and mingled with the other kids and generally made me teary-eyed with pride. I was starting to hope that I’d been nervous about nothing, but a part of me was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then it did, with a resounding thump. One fine morning, she just refused to go into class. Lots of tears. Loud sobs echoing in the hall. What had changed so drastically in 24 hours? Was it just toddler mood swings? Or had the novelty value of school worn off already? Whatever the reason, she clung to me and I was facing the most horrible of all parental quandaries – force your panicky, screaming child away from you? Or give in and bring her back the next day?

After many long minutes of pointless negotiation, I took the latter route. As we left, it was hard to tell who was more upset, her or me. In fact, when we were offered tissues, water and words of comfort, I wasn’t sure whom it was for (turns out, for both of us).

I’m not looking forward to the next few days. Or weeks. The honeymoon’s over and we have a long, rough road ahead of us. The nightmare, I fear, has merely begun. Who’s afraid of dragons?

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 6:29:16 AM |

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