His little hands grab firmly to my pant leg as I turn to go. I glance back at him; his eyes well up with tears as his arms outstretch to me, like a sunflower. When I make only tentative movements, he begins to jump up and down wildly.
“I don’t want to go to school”. He whispers in my ear as I crouch back down to comfort him, his eyes searching the room ahead.
It’s the second week of his new class.
“Usually worse than the first”, the teacher says with a wink, over her shoulder with a cadre of other kids nipping at their heels, bidding for attention.
“Just let us know how you’d like to handle this”
How I would like to handle this. Love is a dance, I say to myself. To and fro; synchronicity, and discord. He’s moved towards me and I’m trying to move away, but I’ve inadvertently stepped on his heart.
Can you help me pick it back up? It’s too close to my feet! I want to say to the teacher, but what comes out is “Thanks, but we’ll be OK”.
In that moment, I try hard to see the big picture; the dueling needs for security and independence that are fighting it out in both of our brains. We need one another. We need different things, too. Love is a dance.
I hold him tightly and rock him back and forth, too proud to tell the teachers that I don’t actually know how to handle this. I close my eyes and breathe him in; wet pebbles, biscuits and warm milk.
More parents shuffle in the classroom, and in clockwork motion, remove the coats from their children, hang them up, give kiss goodbye, and walk out the door, their hard soled shoes tapping out the seconds as we perch there together on the floor. Click-clock.
On her way out, one mother stops her clockwork gait to lean down to me and, in a low voice she says,
“It’s a band-aid”, gesturing to our frozen-in-time embrace, “Rip it off”. And just like that, my primal trance is broken; we have to keep moving.
And I am somehow carried out the door with the click clock of the other parents, moving with a tailwind at this impulse that is not my own. He is reaching for me, the volume of his voice rising as I open the door to leave “Mmmmmmommmmmmmyyyyy!”.
And I am out the door. Synapses in my brain firing, forming new pathways; I feel as if I have done something terribly wrong. Out into the falling snow and piercing cold.
Later in the afternoon I arrive back at the same door to pick him up, and find him sprawled out in the center of the room’s carpet, playing with a dollhouse, busily rearranging little tables and chairs for the dolls to have their breakfast.
“I don’t want to go home”, he’s now saying, as I’m reaching for his coat.
The teacher approaches and opens her hands to reveal a folded piece of red construction paper and two little pink hearts.
“We were about to make a card with these. Why don’t you take them home with you?” She says.
I reach for them, trying to grab all three pieces while holding his still-empty coat. The two pink paper hearts fall, fluttering onto the floor below.
“Can you pick those up for me?” I ask him.
“Sure, Mommy.” And with that, he delicately retrieves the two hearts and deposits them, safe and sound, into the red construction paper card.
“Let’s go now.”
Erin Nieto (best known to readers as the Househunting Mom) is currently working on her first novel.