School mornings with Ford, 12, go something like this: at 7:45 a.m., he yells from downstairs that I’m going to make him late. But when we get in the car at 8:05, he often realizes he’s forgotten his binder, or his gym shorts, and that he needs to run back inside.
Of course, it’s still my problem, if not my fault, when we pull into the school parking lot one minute late.
Ford likes me to turn down my Elvis music before he opens the door, because there is always a crowd of middle schoolers standing nearby on the curb. Apparently, nothing is worse than starting your junior-high school morning with friends hearing “What Now My Love” on your mom’s radio.
But Ford always — no matter how late or annoyed with me — pauses before he shuts the car door and says, “Have a good day, Mom,” or “I’ll see you this afternoon.” I smile as I watch him run into the school building, papers flying out of his binder and half-open backpack. Sometimes, his shoes are still untied. I wonder if he’s forgotten his lunch.
School mornings with Owen, 10, go like this: by 8:30, he has fed the dog, picked up Ford’s baseball bat in the backyard, made breakfast for his younger brother, and brushed his own teeth. He waits patiently by the front door until I am ready.
When I drop off Owen at the curb outside his school, he walks calmly and steadily to the front door. I call out the window, “I love you,” and “have a good day,” but he just waves over his shoulder. Sometimes, if I feel like making a scene, I call out again, “It’s OK; I know you love me, too.” Then he pretends to not know me. He slips through the front doors of the school without much fanfare.
And then there’s Lindell, who is 6. There is a word for school mornings with Lindell, but it can’t be printed here. If there’s syrup on his waffles, he wanted no syrup. If there’s milk, he only wanted orange juice. He streaks through the living room and then complains about being cold and unable to dress himself. He takes 10 minutes to put on a pair of Velcro shoes. Once we’re in the car and backing out of the driveway, he says he needs to use the restroom.
But the scene when I leave Lindell at kindergarten is beyond comparison. First, I have to drag him out of the car. He flails around and complains about everything from feeling sick to his shoes being too tight. Next, inside the school lobby, I have to peel him off me. Then I run out the front door before he can follow. Sometimes, I cry when I get back to my car.
I can’t decide which is harder, Owen’s cool and easy goodbye or Lindell’s separation anxiety. By 9 a.m., however, I feel like I’ve already had my high and low for the day. What other identity, besides motherhood, has you at once doubting yourself, then feeling overly confident, and finally crying in your car, all within one hour of waking up?
The boys ask why I don’t homeschool them. I’m genuinely surprised the older boys would want to be home with me. Even so, my reply is always the same: I would be the worst homeschool parent ever (see paragraph one about making Ford late).
Also, I can’t do it all. That’s the tough part of motherhood: we are schedule-keeper, nurse, therapist and disciplinarian for these little people who, in Owen’s case, just wave over their shoulder as they walk into school, like we haven’t cried a million tears over them. Or, in Lindell’s case, they clasp onto our leg while we peel them away, and then we feel guilty the rest of the day. Could I really be expected to grade and pass or fail these people, too?
A couple of weeks ago, I had a freak-out moment about this “doing it all” stuff, and in particular, morning drop-off with Lindell. It wasn’t pretty. I was tired and beaten down, and Owen witnessed the whole cry-fest.
The next morning, on the way to Lindell’s school, Owen reached over and grabbed his brother’s hand. “You’re going to have a good day today,” he said. “Do you want me to walk you into the building?”
Lindell nodded. I watched as he and Owen walked hand-in-hand to the front of Lindell’s school. Owen patted Lindell’s shoulder before he told him goodbye, then he waited while Lindell went inside.
I realized, maybe I don’t have to do it all. Sometimes, their brothers will step up, too.
When I dropped off Owen at school that morning, he paused before he got out of the car. He smiled and looked over his shoulder. “Have a good day, Mom,” he said.
And it was a good day.
Sarah Smiley is a Navy spouse and the author of “Shore Leave,” a nationally syndicated column.