I spend a good three days to two weeks dreading any activity that promises to take me away from the safe hub of my home for more than two or three hours. And while agoraphobia is not one of my many mental illnesses, I am rather attached to the old hearth. A few months ago, I agreed to sub for the preschool aide at the school where Sheldon–my 14 year old–attends and where my sister is principal. I have no problem agreeing to something months in advance, and if I forget to write it on my calendar, and I always do, it’s as if I never agreed to begin with.
My sister, the principal, is a pretty smart cookie, so she waited to remind me of my upcoming sub duties until they were a week away, limiting the amount of time I could spend dreading. Even so, I didn’t waste a single moment, and still after a week of mild-level angst–checking the weather forecasts hourly in the hopes of a snow day, analyzing my shallow cough for possible worsening, my shoulders for that achy feeling that signals a fever, monitoring my own children’s health in case I would be needed for their care–Tuesday came uneventfully, and I was on my way to the preschool classroom.
I love preschoolers, I do, so it makes no sense for me to dread spending time with them. The thing is, I suppose, that I have a rather small comfort zone, and when I start breaching its borders, the committee chimes in. What if you aren’t good at this? What if you make a mistake? What if they smell your fear? Wouldn’t you rather stay home and write your life story, make lunch for Peanut (who is 17, for God’s sake), be there to greet UPS when your Sephora order comes in, read your new book?
I told the committee that I just finished Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes, and by God, I was going to dance it out with a bunch of little ones, so the committee could just shut up. (Read this book, please!)
Let me tell you something about the pre-k set–they are cool cats. They are both present and flinging themselves headlong into the future. They are not separate from or ashamed of their bodies. They sneeze and fart and when snot seeps from their noses they wipe it away with their shirt sleeves. They pick their boogers and their butts with equal abandon, to hell with good choices! They say what they are thinking:
Ms. Bridgett, are you a boy or a girl?
I’m a girl.
So why that short hair, then?
Ms. Bridgett, how old are you?
I’m 49 years old.
Oh, Ms. Bridgett, you are old. (This was said with so much awe and admiration that I actually felt pretty damned good about my advanced age.)
Preschoolers like to run windmilling their flexible little arms. They pitch so far forward that they nearly kiss the concrete, and sometimes they do, but more often than not their legs somehow catch up to their bodies and they are off again.
Preschoolers like to be held. They reach their little hands straight up towards your chest and there is nothing you can do, nothing you want to do more than to lift up that little body and hold it close. They say things like, Hold you, please, and your wee heart grows ten sizes.
And they weep. Oh God, they weep uncontrollably. They weep if someone swipes their seat. They weep when their friends knock over their magnetic tiles. They weep when they have to wait one minute to go to the bathroom. They weep and weep and weep and they don’t care if weeping is unacceptable or too dramatic for the situation at hand. They rub their little fists into their weepy little eyes and wail like their toes have been cut off. Oh to weep that way, at the first hint of sorrow or disappointment, to shriek and let the whole world in on your unhappiness.
Thursday was my last day in the preschool classroom, and when I went home that afternoon, I knew I would miss their little voices. I would miss rubbing their little backs while they tried to nap. I would miss the tattling and the running and phonercizing with Dr. Jean which is way way better than aerobics.
When my daughter, Peanut, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, three years ago, I was forced to accept that I had no control over anything. All those years, raising kids, I thought I could keep them safe. I wanted to crawl back into my children’s childhoods through a hidden portal in the closet wall. Not to do things differently. I knew I would probably do everything the same way. I just wanted to forget that I didn’t have forever.
You see, I was uncomfortable with this new knowledge that every moment counted. I liked it better when the future seemed immense and long, when I could spend hours worrying about new shoes and diarrhea and Howard Dean’s campaign shattering howl on national TV. But there is no portal to crawl through. There is only today, and that long future I once saw is very likely shorter than the time I have left behind.
It’s a sobering thought. And sometimes it grabs me in the gut and twists me around until I too could weep, and I do. But I’m pretty sure this is how it’s supposed to be. At 20 or 30, I could have been paralyzed by this knowledge. I needed the future to unfurl ahead of me farther than I could see. And now in middle age (yes, middle age because I plan to live to at least 100), this knowledge is appropriate. It will help me to make good choices–like spending as much time as I can with the coolest cats.