Thursday, September 11, 2008

first day of school

We signed Alex up for a preschool program at the Catholic church near us. Yesterday was her first day. She's been talking about preschool for months, telling us all that she plans to learn (especially learning to whistle). As we were getting ready to go she told Bryan, "I'm so excited to go to preschool!" The first day is made much less intimidating by having the parents stay the whole time. She knew I would be with her and we didn't have Sam to divert my attention away from her. Still, when the moment came and we were getting out of the car, she became pretty apprehensive. "My stomach hurts," she said. "I think I want to go home."

Flashback to last year, when she developed a stomachache in the car on the way to her first day of preschool (at a different location). I was suspicious that the stomachache was due to nerves, but decided to stay and see how she did. Good thing, because although she ran in and seemed to be having fun immediately, even flirting with a nice boy, she suddenly stopped and complained that her stomach hurt again. It seemed real enough and although I was disappointed to have her first day end that way, I took her out. I had planned to have lunch with a friend so she came along, but we no sooner sat down than she vomited right at the table. :-( Afterwards she seemed fine. I guess I'll never know whether that was nerves or a virus. She definitely complains of stomachaches when things are stressful, so I think she is just susceptible to stress and that is how it affects her. Poor thing.

So yesterday, when she developed the instant stomachache at the sight of the preschool building, I wasn't sure what to think. Do I give off any "vibes" that make her more nervous? I didn't think I did, but I'm sure both of us have our subconscious anxiety about the start of a new school year. She wanted me to carry her rather than walk by herself, something that is becoming rarer now, but I obliged. We checked out the bathrooms and then joined the class, where she clung to me for a couple minutes until she saw the play-dough. There was no more mention of tummy-aches the rest of the morning, and though she didn't interact much with the other kids, at least she seemed happily absorbed. I noticed she is becoming conscious that there is a "right" way to color (inside the lines) - a notion that had not seemed to cross her mind last year. She watched the other kids and started to color in a small, tentative way, then stopped and asked me, "Am I doing it right?" Part of my heart breaks for her, seeing this awareness creeping in - the awareness of social environments, expectations, and fear of public humiliation or judgment based on performance. I fear the premature squelching of my free-spirited child. But there is a positive side to it too: without this awareness of others and one's social interactions, how could anyone do well in school, or develop compassion, or succeed in sports or academics or life?

All in all, the hour passed quickly. It ended with story time, some kids sitting on the rug in a circle, some (Alex included) on their mom's or dad's laps. She seemed not to be paying particular attention to the story, and I thought it was a bit slow-paced, but later she was able to tell me what it was about with reasonable detail. In retrospect, I would say the first day was a success. Especially compared to last year - no vomiting - yay! :-) It is quite something to think of the years and years of school ahead of her. Today was one small step forward into what will become a significant part of her life.

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