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Lost (and found) in transition

September 1, 2009

Graysen was in kindergarten for barely two minutes before I began to envy his teacher.

“Okay students,” she said, as I lingered near the door, “everyone freeze like a statue!”

Graysen froze, green marker poised over his coloring sheet.

“Now, put your caps on your markers and put your markers away …”

Before she’d even finished her sentence, Graysen had capped and replaced his marker. I glanced over at Chris and we exchanged a proud but defeated look that said: Who is this kid and what has he done with our son?

There were no goodbyes — Gray was caught up in his new adventure and we faded into the background, his faceless chauffeurs.

On that happy note, he finally, thankfully, transitioned into kindergarten.

August turned out to be a transitional month for everyone in our family. Chris took a break from weekly business travel, and began an artistic welding class at the community college. Visions of metal trellises for our volunteer morning glories are now dancing in our heads.

Soren started high school, and managed (somehow) to survive the verrryy borrring book he had to read over the summer.

Mira turned 13, which was also a transitional moment for me in that I now have two teenagers.

Chiara also had a birthday. She turned 9 on the 29th, and is excited about finally realizing her dream of learning to ride a horse. Riding lessons are our gift to her, made possible only because I finally moved through a transition and into a dream of my own: To work from home doing something I love without the constant distraction of my (wonderful) children.

Having achieved that goal I now have the flexibility that comes with not having to toe the line of arbitrary office hours, something I’ve been craving for a long time.

Perhaps I sound overly idealistic about the challenges of working for myself (which is a misnomer, since the work I do is still for other people), but I have, to some extent and with varying levels of grace, freelanced for several years. The only difference now is that I don’t have to hold down a full-time job at the same time.

When Gray was a baby I was, for almost two years, a work-at-home mom. When he was an infant, this wasn’t a big deal. He slept in my arms (his favorite place) and there was no interruption to the process of bonding that was very important to me (and, uh, him).

As he became mobile, however, I found it difficult to get anything done. My attention was constantly split from productive work time to real-life moments like the many I spent extracting non-food items (potting soil, rocks, dryer sheets, dog food) from Graysen’s mouth. Plus, he was easily bored. Almost as bored as Soren was with his summer reading, in fact. But back in those days, we were in a bit of a bind. I had to work to help pay the bills but I didn’t make enough to afford child care. I was stuck in a weird limbo of ineffective working and distracted parenting.

The balance tipped by necessity when Graysen was two and I realized a couple of things. First, he needed a peer group of people as short as himself. Second, I needed to be able to focus for more than one minute at a time. That’s when I put him in day care and went to work full-time, and for the next three years it worked well for all of us.

Eventually, kindergarten became that shining light at the end of the tunnel of full-time work and full-time day care payments. It represented a sparkling freedom I hadn’t experienced. Ever.

Energized by the pending transition, we pulled Gray out of day care a week before school to spend some time with him and help him shift gears more smoothly.

Once home, and out of his routine, however, Graysen got back in touch with his emotional inner toddler. He morphed into a tempest who fell to pieces over the littlest thing. This condition worsened when the older kids’ classes started up five days before his.

“Everyone’s having fun at school but me!” he sobbed after we dropped Chiara off at school on the second morning. He continued to vacillate between sad and angry and frustrated all that day … and the next day … and the next. We were shredded, especially knowing that nothing short of the first school bell would snap him out of it.

When the big day arrived, Graysen’s crabbiness and selective hearing evaporated like magic as he passed through the door of his classroom. His face was lit with a smile, his ears tuned sharply to his teacher. Watching this, I was pleased and proud and all of that but, yes, I was envious too. Graysen is the reason, you see, that we don’t have any markers at home that work. He never seems to hear us when asked to put the caps back on.

But … no matter. He survived the transition, and, more importantly, so did we.

Somehow.

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