Tuesday, August 14, 2007

First Days

Today, like many when you are parenting was a first. First day of Kindergarten. Let me spoil the mystery by saying she did fine. Better than fine, if I am truthful. She hopped on the bus without even looking backward. It never occurred to her that she would be leaving the protective arms of the mother who loves her beyond what the English language would allow in prose. She climbed the all too big bus stairs, waved and disappeared until 2:45pm when she was deposited safely back to me in the same fashion...descending the too large stairs with a too large backpack strapped to her tiny frame. Her only comment, "I got a Hersey's kiss, Mama. It was great!" Then she immediately started the verbal campaign to play with her version of American Idol, Jessica, who is ten. But Jessica completed her first day of 4th grade and already had homework.

All day I thought about September 17, 2002. Why this day? It was the first full day of parenting Ava. It happened in Changsha, Hunan China. She was 1 day shy of eight months old. I loved her but I was forcing myself to love her. I think I knew I would eventually love her without forcing myself but September 17th, the first full day I was truly forcing myself. She cried...a lot. She cried every minute she was in the hotel room. Or, that is the way I remember it. She cried every moment I was in charge of holding her in the hotel room. Although this picture proves me incorrect.
The Muffin Man was over the moon with the whole meeting Ava business, but I was freaking out. I remember when this picture was taken I was clenching my teeth hoping she would not start screaming again. The cups seemed to help keep her busy for 2 minutes. This photo must have been shot 1 and 1/2 minutes into the cup adventure. I really don't like this picture, we look so happy and we were not. She was probably fine although exhausted. I had been a parent for about 24 hours. She had been a child with forever parents (however lame) for 24 hours. I honestly thought, I have survived cancer and corporate jobs, and 11 years of marriage and yet, I'm not sure I can survive one more day of parenting. It was too overwhelming, too stressful. This little child needed more than I could give her. She deserved more than me. She was drop dead gorgeous, she was a survivor, she was perfect in every way...I was not. I wanted to look into those soft brown cashmere eyes and connect. But we did not. I knew it and she knew it.

Just after this picture was taken out travel mate Jeff knocked on the door. He was "checking" in on us. He had just met his daughter Alyssa who is now Ava's LBF (little best friend, from Chenzhou) They were second time parents and their little girl slept, and ate, and cooed and smiled. She even napped. Her mother was completely smitten from minute one. She instinctively knew how to be a great mother. I did not. Although I did make a mean bottle, even Ava had to concede to that. She got the cashmere eye connection that I so desperately wanted. Jeff casually asked if we were doing better. (This was polite code for Are you ok? You seem a wee bit stressed.) I told him we were fine and Ava was perfect in every way but the last 24 hours seemed like 24 years, if truth be told. He stepped back a bit in that Dolton Hotel hallway and smiled a knowing smile at me. He got quiet and said, "Perrin, you have such a short time with her before she grows up. She will be big before you know it. She will be going to Kindergarten in a blink of an eye. Enjoy her while she is so little."

I did not get it at all. I had parented this child for 24 hours and I thought I might spontaneously combust from the stress and he was talking about 5 years of this? I could not conceive five years. I had recently received massive doses of cancer therapy and other emotional therapy telling me to take it one day at a time. How could I do five years? I could barely survive 24 hours. I thanked him politely and closed the hotel room door after making arrangements to meet his family for breakfast the next morning.

After I shut the door Ava cried, and I cried. After Brian got her to sleep (a two hour adventure) I had what I am pretty sure was a panic attack. My Muffin Man held my hand from the twin bed next to mine and told me to breathe, the same way he did after I had a chemo treatment and was afraid I would be throwing up all night 2 years before. He pretty much talked me down from the tastefully wallpapered wall.

The next morning I dug my heels in determined to be a good mother to this child. I would survive until Kindergarten. We would survive until Kindergarten. I didn't come all this way to give up now...and she didn't lose her first parents only to get a pair of sissys. We were in it for the long haul.

It's five years later. We survived. No, we did better than survive, we've had fun. We have loved, throwing caution to the wind. She has learned to trust, I have learned to be and to exist in her presence. It it exhilarating and maddening and a privilege.

Things like stepping on a big bus and going to a new classroom are easy for Ava. She is wicked strong. And she has people skills. Kids follow her. She has more God-given self confidence than me and and all of my girl power circle of friends has put together.

Alyssa's dad Jeff was right. Time has gone by quickly and now it is 5 years since that stressful day in Hunan China. He was my sage....enjoy your baby, before you know it she will be off to Kindergarten.


Kristina said...

Just delurking to say thank you for this lovely post. My daughter is only 3 and I remember very well the hotel rooms and the forced smiles and the need to be talked down from the wall. And I can see that day not too far in the future when she heads off to kindergarten so full of her big self, as she should be. Thank you.

Juliette said...

This is a beautiful post, a love letter to your daughter. I've never commented before but today I had too.
My little one is starting school in a week, and I worry now...maybe more than in Changsha even though I know she'll do just fine.

Jacquie said...

Another delurker here. This post was beautiful!

Johnny said...

Very nice.

I think you can hear the words, but until you live the words, they don't quite have the meaning they were meant to convey.

We too are coming up on a quick 3 years together, and.......where did all that time go?

Gracencameronsmomy said...

as someone who is about to send my oldest to K, and someone who had a rough start in China, I have tears in my eyes...thanks...

Beverly said...

Okay so now I am crying.

So sweet and so hard and so wonderful.


Kim said...

What an amazing post!! Thanks for sharing!

Kim Y
LID 3/29/07 for Megan Jean

Ladybug Kreations

Erin said...

Beautiful, heartfelt post. Thanks for sharing your experience for those of us still going through those rough times of getting to know one another.

Amanda said...

This? One of my favorite posts of all time. It is a love letter to Ava, and a fabulous one at that. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.


Anonymous said...

Another one delurking to say, you made me tear up and my girls not even 2 yet.


Heather said...

Found your blog almost by accident, but as I think about my bio daughter beginning Kindergarten in a couple of weeks, you captured where my heart is. Our first six weeks together were hard! First time parents, she was sooooo small, breast-feeding - I was sure one or both of us would combust - we didn't and we too have had fun. Now, we have added a Jiangxi cutie to the mix and blammo, I felt an instant connection - ohhhh, that was what I missed the first time, because i worried too much! We live and we learn. Congrats on Kindergarten - I hope we live through it as gracefully as you have!

Ani said...

what a loving, honest post. i read it with tears in my eyes.
thank you.

my son is 2, and i remember clearly when he first came home - the tears (his and mine), the sleepless nights (his and mine), the stress (all mine!)... and all of a sudden, they are walking, talking, loving, independent beings. how time flies!

Jeni said...

Perrin, this is just beautiful. As I sit looking at my two almost 4-year-olds and prepare to go get my almost 10-month-old, I'm just crying my eyes out. Ava and her mama are both survivors -- and I think the universe knew that when they hooked you up.

Gwenhwyfar said...

This post was so honest and raw and beautiful you made a person who isn't even close to being a momma yet wail.
Thank you,

Gwenhwyfar said...

PS - My name and Blogger username don't match bc I blog under a pen name: Gwenwhyfar which is the old Welsh name the modern Jennifer is derived from. Just wanted to make that clear, bc it looks weird.

Stephanie said...

OMG, that might have been the most honest, wonderful and coolest post I have EVER read. I hope you don't mind, but I am so going to link to this. You have touched upon so many emotions first time parents have that it reminds me of when my oldest was born. She too will be starting Kindergarten next month. Thank you.

Sophie's Mom said...

Great post! So often people don't talk about the hard times. Beautifully written.

a&mg said...

Popped over here from a link off Stephanie's blog, and so glad I did.

An amazing post--thank you so very much for sharing it.

Amy said...

What a great post! Thank you for a candid post about your experience.

Tammy said...

I saw your link on Stephanie (forks & chopsticks) blog. Sending my little man off on the 'big bus' was so hard. I understand your emotions. Here's a poem that I've saved - it was sent to me by my son's kindergarten teacher. Sorry, it's long, but I know you'll get it.

Thoughts from the bottom of the beanstalk....

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who was about to climb his very first beanstalk. He had a fresh haircut and a brand-new book bag.

Even though his friends in the neighborhood had climbed this same beanstalk almost every day last year, this was Jack's first day and he was a little nervous. So was his mother.

Early in the morning she brought him to the foot of the beanstalk. She talked encouragingly to Jack about all the fun he would have that day and how nice his giant would be. She reassured him that she would be back to pick him up at the end of the day. For a moment they stood together, silently holding hands, gazing up at the beanstalk. To Jack it seemed much bigger than it had when his mother had pointed it out on the way to the store last week. His mother thought it looked big, too. She swallowed. Maybe she should have held Jack out a year...

Jack's mother straightened his shirt one last time, patted his shoulder and smiled down at him. She promised to stay and wave while he started climbing. Jack didn't say a word.

He walked forward, grabbed a low-growing stem and slowly pulled himself up to the first leaf. He balanced there for a moment and then climbed more eagerly to the second leaf, then to the third and soon he had vanished into a high tangle of leaves and stems with never a backward glance at his mother.

She stood alone at the bottom of the beanstalk, gazing up at the spot where Jack had disappeared. There was no rustle, no movement, no sound to indicate that he was anywhere inside.

"Sometimes," she thought, "it's harder to be the one who waves good-bye than it is to be the one who climbs the beanstalk."

She wondered how Jack would do. Would he miss her? How would he behave? Did his giant understand that little boys sometimes acted silly when they felt unsure? She fought down an urge to spring up the stalk after Jack and maybe duck behind a bean to take a peek at how he was doing.

"I'd better not. What if he saw me?" She knew Jack was really old enough to handle this on his own. She reminded herself that, after all this was thought to be an excellent beanstalk and that everyone said his giant was not only kind but had outstanding qualifications.

"It's not so much that I'm worried about him," she thought, rubbing the back of her neck. "It's just that he's growing up and I'm going to miss him."

Jack's mother turned to leave. "Jack's going to have lots of bigger beanstalks to climb in his life," she told herself.

"Today's the day he starts practicing for them...

And today's the day I start practicing something too: Cheering him on and waving good-bye."

(Author Unknown)

Headmeister said...

I too found your blog though Stephanie at Forks & Chopsticks - just delurking to say how beautiful that post was. I am ever waiting for Gracie, LID 12-29-06, and I will have to remember this post when I'm sitting in our hotel room in some province, on the other side of the world, having the same experience you just described. I waited a long time to have kids because of my fear of "what the hell am I doing???" All I know is that I'm not the only one out there who felt this way. Thank you SO much for being so open :)

Be well,

LaLa said...

Thank you for a moving post. I have tears running down my cheeks. I too had a rough start..although a little different as Annslee did not cry..she LOVED daddy but wouldn't let me near her for days. OUCH. I too didn't have the immediate mommy love that I thought I should but like you, I have it now in a fierce way : )

kikalee said...

Beautiful post Perrin. Absolutely beautiful. It took me right back to the Dolton a mere 6 mos ago. That crib looks mighty familiar.

Oh, and do I agree about a Ba girl's self-confidence. It's astonishing, I only wish I had a fraction of Siya's. She's already in a school, and when I drop her off she's the same as Ava -- never looks back. I admire her so much for that.

Space Mom said...

Happy first day of Kindergarten! Very beautiful!

OziMum said...

So glad Ava had a great first day at Kindy. Just when we start to "get" what kids are about... they're off to school.. what's the deal with that?!!

Ranee said...

Well I'm glad to see everything is good here. Holy Cute on the first day pics too!

I kept seeing the news and having visions of Ava stuck on the bus and you strangling bus drivers so I broke down and checked the site!

Kikilia said...

Great post.

How come all the kids were carrying giant, heavy boxes of Harcourt stuff? Shouldn't they get that at school?

Cavatica said...

Never been here before, but "and she didn't lose her first parents only to get a pair of sissys" makes me want to cry. Wow - kindergarten. I'm in awe and still waiting for ours in China.

Michelle & John said...

I have had you on my favorites for some time now. Just read this post(9/24/07), I really needed to read it today. We are with Great Wall LID 3/8/07 for what will be my first and only child. I am excited to a level I did not think humanly possible; in the same breath...absolute terror! I have babysat for toddlers and grade school age kids. No big deal. Play, eat snacks, watch tv, the moms come home and I am off the hook! I don't want to mess this up. I don't feel like I will be enough for her. I make fleeting comments to friends and coworkers, they all say it just comes to you. can this be true? Anyone with advise to get through these feelings can email me!