Monday, September 19, 2016

Parenthood: Week 170 – Drop-Off

I looked back up at the second story window and saw Ollie screaming and reaching out for me. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew the sound of his screams and sobs from moments before when he had begged for me to stay.

It was only the second day of school for Ollie. Diana took care of the first day. She had stayed around like the school requested in case of a major problem. The first day was only a half-day. The second day was different. It was a whole day and I wasn’t going to stick around.

Now that Ollie was in a 3-6 year old classroom, things were different. We had to pack a lunch for Ollie for the first time. He had different teachers and there was a different process for drop-off and pick-up. They gave us the same advice on how to drop him off with the least amount of drama. I looked at these suggestions, half-laughing while reflection on the year before.

Last year, some drop-offs were really easy. I simply walked him to his room, helped him hang up his stuff and change his shoes and he would run into the classroom. Some days, he even forgot to say goodbye to me. Other days, there were tears, and negotiations. There were endless one more hugs, needing me to walk him all the way into the classroom and the promises from the teachers about gerbils to feed and fun activities. There were more good drop-offs than bad ones and while I learned how to handle the more challenging drop-offs, they still stung.

Outside his new classroom, I tried the strategies that worked before: offering to carry him upside down into the classroom, giving him a hug for the an amount of seconds that Ollie determined, letting him know that there was breakfast, and pointing out exciting new activities. Nothing worked.

At first, he asked “daddy stay.” After I told him know and reminded him that I had to go to my school, “daddy stay,” became a declaration and then an angry demand. It was clear that things weren’t getting better, so the teacher, came and picked up Ollie and gave me "the look."  It’s a serious and direct look, that tells parents, “it’s okay, I got this, leave and let me do my job.”

As I started walking away, Ollie’s screams filled the hallway and I could hear his words “daddy stay,” in sharp staccato tones. The teacher asked, “Ollie, do you want to wave goodbye to daddy in the window?”

I knew that there was no way that Ollie was calm down by the time that I was outside the building, but I hoped. When I turned around and saw him crying in the window, I felt my heart hurt, forced myself to smile at him and kept walking.

The whole day, I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think about was the look on Ollie’s face in that window as I walked away. When I finally got home that evening, I rushed over to Ollie and gave him a hug. He was content, watching the television. He scooted next to me and sat quietly on my lap. Then for what felt like the first time since I dropped Ollie off that morning, I exhaled.

The next day was better and the day after that there was no problem at all. Then this past Monday, I walked briskly down the hallway away from Ollie as he crawled after me and the teacher attempted to get him back into the classroom. The rest of the days I dropped him off went fine.

A colleague told me that dropping off his child to college was just as hard. While I felt better knowing that I wasn’t alone in my challenge, the thought that this never got easier made me feel sad.

The strange thing is that as bad as drop-offs are sometimes, I would never give them up. I only get to do them two mornings a week and this process is one way that I can be part of Ollie’s life at  school.  It's a roller-coaster ride and some parts of this ride, I don't really enjoy, but I riding it with my boy.  As hard as some parts of the ride are, we are moving forward and we are making it happen, together.

Today, as we walked to school, I asked Ollie how many hugs he wanted before he went into his classroom.  "TWENTY!" he enthusiastically responded.  Outside the classroom, we counted twenty small hugs and after the last one, he said goodbye and happily ran into the classroom.  I walked away proud of my son.  I couldn't see him through that second story window as I left, but I smiled knowing that he was going to have a great day.    

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