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"Mommy, Are There Bathrooms At Your School?”

There I was all set for the big re-launch.  I had spent the last twenty years in a seemingly endless stream of pregnancies, on demand breastfeeding, baby food mills with forays into organic foods, a stab at continuum parenting a la the noted psychotherapist Jean Liedloff[1], dark of night hunts for any empty bed in which to grab some zzz’s and on and on.  I had made the decision two decades ago to interrupt my corporate career and stay home full time with my kids.  The decision had been easy and natural for me.  I just looked into that first heaven sent baby’s beautiful newborn blue eyes and declared, “I am not leaving you,” and never, ever looked back or regretted it.  Life had brought me my first child at thirty, and I was not going to miss a millisecond of it. 

And leave them I rarely did.  With a husband who worked very long hours and left most childrearing responsibilities to me, I took them everywhere. They went with me for every trip to the grocery store, trip to the cleaners, pick up and drop off at school, pick up and drop off at extra curriculars and on and on.  It was more fun that way anyway.  Those uninspiring and boring errands could be downright delightful with adorable, chubby cheeked and curly haired partners fully equipped with interesting and inquisitive minds. 

I even took them to places no baby was supposed to go.  Parent Teacher Conferences scheduled for a time when my husband was working?  No problem.  My kids are portable.  When called to head up a fundraising event for the school or to join an important advisory committee, they had better be prepared for a package deal, me with a young one armed with crayons, markers and coloring books to keep them occupied while Mommy was contributing to the community.  They learned conference etiquette early in life.  (Perhaps it should be on their resumes.)  Formal dinners were attended with the baby du jour who might need a discreet feeding in the ladies’ room between the soup and the chicken. 

Then the paradigm began to shift.  With my youngest set to start the first grade, I had begun to have visions of an empty nest where instead of waking early to begin my hectic schedule of cooking breakfast, packing lunches and making sure all the knapsacks had the appropriately signed homework sheet and test, I would wake to nothing.  I caught sight of the dreaded “empty nest” and it wasn’t pretty.  I recoiled at the thought of my most important household responsibility being to ensure that all the pillows in the house were properly placed and fluffed.  I began to taste an existence where I actually had the time to neatly arrange my closets and desk.  It was clearly time to make a plan. 

The MBA from a prestigious school which had gained me entry into the corporate world oh so many years ago no longer seemed relevant or congruent with my current life.  My family had morphed into my career path.  With five children and a husband, I had exactly this much (imagine my thumb and my forefinger crooked a perfect one inch apart) time to do any activity that had to do with much else.  So, I did my research, spoke with a career coach (whom I had incidentally known in “the old days” and who had also hung it all up for a more flexible lifestyle), mapped out a new course, configured a new resume, applied for my chosen program and enrolled in my first class, thus beginning a new chapter in my life. 

But I digressed.  Let us go back to my big day, the very day set to start my reinvent.  I deftly coordinated the babysitting, plugged in the destination point on my GPS to familiarize myself with the route and was making the all important dinner, so that the crew could actually survive until I returned.  The big kids were honestly puzzled as to why anyone would willingly choose to go to school.  Then there was my little six year old, almost first grader who was kind of oblivious to the whole process up until now.  It was during that dinner prep that I broke the news to her.  I told her that Mommy will be going to school one night a week starting tonight.  It sounds so deceptively simple, doesn’t it?  Just know that this particular announcement was, in fact, groundbreaking.  It literally took many, many years to materialize.  I, “helicopter mom” par excellence, had to make sure that the kids were old enough and solid enough in their stations and psyches in order to feel comfortable enough to leave them on their own on a regular basis, albeit for a few hours a week.   

At first, my darling daughter was completely baffled by the news.  Her immediate without-blinking-an-eye response was, “No!  Mommies don’t go to school.  They stay home and work.”  I took a deep breath and paused for a moment to think.  The proud mama in me decided this was a highly evolved response.  Unlike Gloria Steinem, my daughter had absorbed the work outside the home vs. work inside the home lesson.  Still, I could see the wheels turning in her head.  A new game was afoot and she was not quite sure if she liked it.  The questions began to flow.  “Will your teacher be nice?”  “Will your teacher be a man or a woman?” “Do they serve snack?”  “Will you have homework?” “What time does it start?”  “What time does it end?” (Time? Really?  She can’t even tell time.) The questions abated and I continued preparing dinner.  “That wasn’t too bad,” I thought to myself.  I guess the noted child development expert Penelope Leach was right when she taught me so many years ago that “independence comes from dependency needs met.”[2]  The lull in the interrogation signaled to me that I was now free to go and my last little chick seemed to be fine with her older siblings caring for her while I was away.  I felt we had made a breakthrough.  My baby had contentedly acquiesced to the new situation.  She continued about her business arranging her Barbie dolls and then on to some snack at the kitchen table.  After a few moments, she came to me crunched up holding her stomach saying, “My belly hurts.”  This undoubtedly meant a trip to the bathroom was in the offing.  Then the “big reveal” came. 

With her brow furled and her arms hugging her abdomen, my daughter turned to me and asked, “Mommy, do they have bathrooms at your school?”  This was the straightforward question that brought everything into perfect focus.  The proverbial “other shoe” had dropped.  She was well trained alright, but not necessarily in the way I had smugly figured only moments ago.  After all the times she was shlepped with me to places no other child was allowed to go, she naturally thought this was just another adventure for us to take together.  Her litany of questions reflected her personal concerns before she was allegedly going to step into the classroom that night.  Amused, I turned to her with the shocking news, “Honey, the school I am going to is just for mommies.  You are not coming with me.”  “What??  Why not?!” came the sharp retort.   

While I would have loved nothing better than to take her with, I am not sure how appreciative the teacher would have been.  Anyway, I don’t have enough crayons or paper to carry even the most precocious of children through a three hour class.  Alas, with this new chapter in my life, I might have to devise an all new lesson plan for our household parenting curriculum. 

___________________

Bibliography:

Leach, Penelope.  “Your Baby & Child with Penelope Leach.”  Lifetime Television, 1993. 

Liedloff, Jean.  The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost.  Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995.

[1] Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995).

[2] Penelope Leach, “Your Baby & Child with Penelope Leach,” Lifetime Television, 1993. 

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