We always want better for our kids. Especially when it comes to those childhood experiences of school and socializing. While we may sometimes find ourselves saying things like "Well, when I was in school," or "You don't even know how good you have it," we still really want them to have the best. Always.
I grew up in a small southern town. I will claim Shreveport because my address happenEd to fall within that zip code, but the truth is that I should really say I was raised in Blanchard. Or, "B-Town" as it is lovingly referred to in some circles. We had a lot to be proud of in "B-Town." We were the home of the Dairy Queen, McDonalds and a gift shop that doubled as a tanning parlor. Kind of genius if you really think about it. You make your gift purchases, and while they ring you up you hop on in a tanning booth for some summer color. Don't forget to apply a little sticker to denote just how white you were 12 minutes ago. I always chose a butterfly sticker because I was a good girl, there were those girls that picked the playboy bunny sticker, we won't go into that, but I will say it should have been a warning to us all.
Moving on... If you were raised in the south, you know the first day of school is a BIG DEAL. It takes a lot of prep work. First, you go school clothes shopping with your mom. Second, after purchasing your wardrobe, you head to your hometown bow shop to pick out custom coordinating bows to match all your outfits. This step is very important. The bow MUST be 3 times the width of your face and it must be attached by the appropriate clip for your hair type. It is not only decorative, it is a southern momma's tracking device as we can now find you in any crowd or any pick up line. Next, you must travel to the local Walmart or K-Mart and sift through file folders of school supply lists to find your homeroom teacher's list. They didn't have emails or apps to communicate with parents. It was an old school paper list you checked off with a pencil in the middle of the market. Crazy, Right? Here is where my personal school prep always got interesting. My mother HATED school supply shopping with a passion. I cannot tell you how many years that woman would raid the supply closet at her Law Office just to avoid the whole process. She would argue every item on the school supply list and by the end of it, my new teacher was so selfish to ask for all this stuff. On most first days, I brought a yellow legal pad to take notes without batting an eye. I also got creative and used the "Sign Here" arrows to decorate my binders. I think it gave me an edge. However, my oldest sister was not having it, and she was mortified that I was showing up to class with random staplers and sticky notes. She not only wanted me to have the correct items the teacher requested, she wanted them to be adequately personalized. My sister has been a teacher for over twenty years so she could instantly see that our mother was every teacher's worst nightmare. So the last step before the the "First Day of School," was to organize and personalize all of my notebooks with markers and stickers. My sister deserves a medal.
When I became a mother, I wanted to up my game. Because I have a problem with being extra. Even though we weren't in Louisiana anymore, my kids followed the same winning combo laid out for me as a kid. There were a few subtle differences due to the changing times. Namely, I had to buy my custom bows off Etsy, and "Step 4" made use of my Silhouette cutting machine, as I would spend hours cutting out fun decals and name tags for my kid's binders. My kids, of course, were outside playing while I worked because they would probably have preferred the stickers and markers. They don't know any better, they are kids. Mom knows best in this situation, you'll love your custom decals because who wouldn't?? As a final act of making the first day a big deal, I would traditionally make a big breakfast spread, play loud dance music and decorate our car. My neighbors have always believed I am nuts, and this solidified their claims. But quite honestly, I want my kids to be as excited as I am about their education. It's a gift. They should also be as excited as I am because Momma is getting a moment of peace and solitude.
So here we are today in the city of London, still living in temporary housing with the first day of school for the girls on the horizon. This was not what I planned, or packed for, when we moved from California. I packed most of the items I thought they would need for school, including my Silhouette cutting machine, in our express shipment. That shipment is still sitting at the dock waiting for a house address to deliver to and so, we have had to pivot. As school was approaching, I started to get really sad and down on myself. Why hadn't I planned for this? This is my job as their mother! They are going to be so disappointed to not have the usual fanfare and traditions and that is all my fault. To make matters worse, we are over an hour and a half away from the school by public transport and I did not feel quite confident yet to drive them out to Uxbridge safely or without mountains of stress. I kept having nightmares driving with the images of buses and trucks flying towards my face as I cried and repeated "Hiney on the Liney" all the way to school. I did not want to set myself up for total failure. I had to change my "Mom-failure-attitude." While I felt enormous guilt for not being able to provide what I believed was necessity, I recognized how blessed we were to be in this place. My girls were both accepted to an excellent school, with an incredible staff and sure, it wasn't going to be like anything they had before, but that is okay! In reality, they will most likely never forget the excitement of attending school abroad.
After my attitude adjustment, I take the girls out to purchase some back to school clothes and lunchboxes. To make it special, we grab ice cream cones and hold hands all the way up and down Oxford Street. We spend our walks talking about the things they miss and the things they are most excited for. It is a pretty simple but meaningful day. When we get home, they excitedly try on every outfit for Zac who gives approval. He struggles a bit with how much older Avah looks, and how she has acquired the very trait that snagged him 17 years ago. REALLY. LONG. LEGS. Avah is currently in that, "baby giraffe stage," where she has these long appendages to operate, but she has lost the manual. They don't seem to do what she tells them to do, resulting in her repeatedly tripping over herself and collapsing into a pile of legs and hair. On the other hand, Arden is in the "Teeth Too Big For My Face" stage. Girl's got some chompers on her. They both share a sadness for far away friends, and a fear of what their new school will be like. On the flip side, they are VERY excited for lockers. Why, I don't know, it seems like some rite of passage I don't remember. Combined, they have both watched 4 million hours of "5 Minute Crafts" to transform every item in our recycling bin into a locker organizational treasure. Zac and I are both worried they will look like homeless kids when they bring it all to school.
The first day of school arrives. We get up at 6:00 am to get ready for the taxi I have scheduled to take us all the way out to Uxbridge. It may not be decorated, but it will get us there without the length of public transport or the stress of me driving. The girls put on their favorite outfits and I make a "very British breakfast." It includes tea, crumpets, fruit, bacon and eggs. They think this is funny and so in retribution they speak with British accents as they eat. I get myself and Asher dressed and we head out to meet our very nice Black Taxi driver, Mr. Adam. He talks and laughs with the kids as we make the 40 minute drive to school. During the drive, Asher starts to cry as he realizes his time as a fearsome threesome is about to be drastically curtailed. It breaks my heart because I know as military kids they depend on each other in times like these. They are a tight little unit, and this is breaking up the band in a sense. Asher gets hugged and kissed by his sisters for half the trip, which was most likely his evil plan. When we pull up I am suddenly reminded that this school building, with its peaks and statues is almost as old as our country. Manicured gardens and ancient trees are sprinkled throughout the gated property. I see the driveway is lined with immaculate sprinter vans and charter busses carrying kids to drop off. In this moment, I feel very far from my "B-town" life. We exit the taxi and I feel a rush of emotion from fear to sadness and back to fear. I hold everyones hand and we walk the short distance to their drop off points. The kids must have recognized my apprehension. I'm pretty transparent so this is not a shock. In almost unison, they remind me of the words of a wise character, Daniel Tiger. (Yes, Daniel Tiger from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. That's the one.) They say, 'Mom, just like how grown-ups always come back, so do kids. Kids come back. It's going to be okay, we will see you in a few hours." My throat feels tight with tears but I know the tiger has a point and the British don't look kindly on outward emotion. I bite the inside of my cheek and smile as big as I can make happen without looking deranged. I hug and kiss them both and they proudly walk to their place. Before Arden lets go of my hand she looks up at me with her big brown eyes and says, "Mom, I'm going to try really hard to make friends. I will try so hard not to be too shy." As I write this, I can see her little face. That image is stored away in my brain's forever file. How did I make such brave and confident kids? Had I been them, I think I would have been cowering behind a statue or hiding in a manicured bush. I leave the property and walk to the bus with Asher who has a mouth twisted into a "C shape," and dried tears he keeps wiping on his sleeve. We are a pair. We spend a "Mommy & Asher Day" trying not to miss our girls.
When the girls finally arrive home from school that day they are practically levitating. I ask Avah to tell me about her day and who she met. She recites a lengthly play-by-play and generates a long list of girls she really liked. She says,"Mom! I met such fun girls, Delisha, Mara, Maggie, Lucy...." The list goes on and on. I ask Arden about her day and she gives me a toothy smile. I ask her if she made friends, she says, "Yes! I did, I wasn't shy!" I then ask, "Well what are their names?" She gives a very Arden response, "I have no idea." We send her to school the next day with an old throw back to help her out. A sticky pad and pencil to write her new friend's names down. Sometimes if it ain't broke, don't fix it. My Mom would be proud.
So first day of school in London was a major success for my kids. For me, this one was scary. Maybe even scarier then learning to drive! I want the very best for my kids, but in this new place I had little control of what this experience was going to look like for them. At times, it was hard to let go of what I envisioned, or the expectations I put on myself to just enjoy the adventure alongside them. It felt like a huge short-coming, but in reality, it was growth and change. That was eye opening for me as a parent. Watching my girls jump headlong into this next chapter affirmed that must be doing something right. We may emotionally scar them with flashbacks of Covid-Testing, but we are making determined, resilient, flexible and brave kids. For that reason, I'm proud.
They are going to need all those qualities and more this Friday when we move from Baker Street to the Guinea Pig Palace. We must move out of our apartment, pack our 27 suitcases, get those suitcases down three flights of stairs to a courier that will take us all Uxbridge. Oh, and we have to follow behind in Stevie. Upon arrival we complete our housing walk-through and get our keys just in time for our express shipment delivery to transpire. Stay tuned. Hold my gin, and watch this.
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