Saturday, September 12, 2009

Coming Up for Air

I put my child on the bus for the first day at a new school, in a new season that feels very, very old--isn't fall the Methuselah of seasons, ancient and wise though it's not going to tell you what it knows?--and he hated me for it. His face through the window was a mask of misery and it made me remember my own hideous experiences with the coming of September: a cold, vague fear squeezing relentlessly from inside.

The night before, he asked me what a "gulag" was. Such an interesting query from your grade-school child. Then he paraphrased the immortal Calvin & Hobbes: "Off to the gulag in a bus."

He berated me all the way to the stop in the morning. You don't know what this feels like! (Ah, honey, but I do; you make it fresh for me, and I am suddenly eleven again.) Why can't I still go to my old school? (The reasons are too many, and have to do with the childishness of the adults who were supposed to have more care for your helplessness.)

Then the bus rumbled out of sight, and I was free again, with a day to get caught up on the life that for the past several weeks has been fleeting like highway scenery past the long-haul trucker's windows. The trees rimming the black waters of Onteora Lake yesterday reflected red and yellow suddenly on their surface. I can breathe a little now. I wonder what my son is doing today, though, in that new school. Is he breathing easily, or is his chest still tight with the newness and the inchoate fears that change always causes to rise in the human heart?

I myself would welcome some change. I think. Right now, though, I want to sit still for just a moment, in the presence of the late-summer cicadas, the light sleepy breaths of the visiting dogs at my feet.

Then to the bank and the auto parts store, for the giant bottle of 15W50. The bike will have change, at least.


Catherine said...

Melissa, this is lovely and heart-pangingly familiar.

I've never actually put any of my children on a school bus (well, except my daughter for first grade, long ago, but she loved it--swear words from the "bad kids" and all).

However, when we moved here our middle child, the one we thought we be the most adaptable, was seized with initial anxiety and physical sickness. I could only equate it with homesickness for so many things. Fortunately, it did not last and within a few days he was so happy in his new environment.

They both have been and I do think moving children to a new school before those difficult middle school years is easier than any other time.

Enjoy your new found quietude...unless Nelly has other plans?

Best, Catherine

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Do you find fall as bittersweet as I do? One longs for a bit of time (and yes, Nelly will happily step in and use it all up, so I still have none) but then the house seems empty . . . Kids have their own independent life at school, of which we know but a tiny glimpse, if they let us.

On the other hand, maybe that is best. For both us & them.

I bet you have lots of lovely fragrant things cooking, Catherine!

Kevin G. said...

It's been said that " the two greatest gifts that we can give our children are: roots and wings"!While I love the truth and wisdom in that paradox, I seriously doubt that the notion was conceived either while driving to a premature checkout from a summer camp or on the first day of any school year.

Catherine said...

Hi Melissa,

Yes it is bittersweet but I love fall once I get past the "odd uneven time" of late August, as Sylvia Plath wrote in a long ago journal.

And while I like the bubbly time of summer when my personality is at its best (in terms of sociable me), I'm really a winter recluse at heart with "November in my soul..."

So my kids are probably just as glad to be rid of me for most of each day then! (I could never homescool...)

Best, Catherine

Catherine said...

PS Have to get cooking...haven't been doing much as we've been losing weight around our household (from years of baking...).

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Touche, Kevin (there's an accent on that "e").

With all the pain of parenthood, a sense of humor is necessary. If you want to avoid hospitalization, anyway.