The dust is beginning to settle. My new normal is finally taking shape. I’m noticing things I have failed to see before.
I have toothpaste all over my shower curtain. Something I never took note of before. Mind-boggling how it landed there. Children, no doubt.
My fridge is quite filthy. Little hands opening and shutting drawers, leaving numerous smudges and crumb trails. Opened and expired yogurt exposing itself.
Items in the grocery store I have never seen. Aldi has cumin for a dollar. Tastes the same as the more expensive stuff.
All these things and more. I have read books. Entire books, in a matter of days, if not hours. I have gone on a walk with the dog before lunch. Rooms have stayed clean for longer than 30 minutes. I have had lunch with friends. I have had breakfast with friends. I have worked out without having to get someone a bowl of goldfish and a juice box.
Woven in to all of these things, I have worried. My phone has not been on silent outside of church. I wait for phone calls from principals, counselors, or teachers. I pace back and forth in the kitchen, wiping down the counters over and over. I use the restroom too much. I do all of the laundry and leave it in baskets too heavy to carry up the stairs. I text like it’s my job. I call my husband to see what he is doing. He is always working. Never pacing his office worrying that his daughter pooped her pants in Kindergarten. I envy his calm demeanor.
Last week, the first week of school, was hard on all of us. There were adjustments that had to be made. Three out of five days, the principal saw me with snot on my face. I cried and cried. Not because my daughter is growing up, but because I understood her actions.
The first day was a train wreck. The days that followed were better, but not by much. She wouldn’t leave my car. I carried her up to the school. She would wiggle away from me and run down the sidewalk. There were times we (the principal, the counselor, and myself) would have to wrestle her to the grass. I would run to my car, and they would comfort her and escort her inside.
I have described it as an episode of Cops. I pull up in my white Impala. People come out with radios. They call for back-up. When back-up comes they take her from me, kicking and screaming. I’m told to get back in the car, which I gladly do. I can’t stay. It is an embarrassing spectacle. Parents stop and ask how I am doing. Teachers give me that it-will-get-better smile. I shrug my shoulders and bite my lip. I literally run to my car.
This child and her actions, they are all things I would do if I were not an adult. They are things I want to do on a daily basis, but society deems dramatic. I have to be mature. I have to be civilized. I have to blend in. Outward defiance is not an option in my world.
Instead, I kick and scream inside. In line at the grocery store, my internal Stefanie is curled in the fetal position, eyes shut tight and crying. When my husband asks that I go to the bank, internal Stefanie stomps her feet and says, “Don’t you know I have a book to write?!” Cleaning up those smudges in the fridge, Internal Stefanie is pissed because she didn’t smudge up a thing. She didn’t open that yogurt. She is forcing herself to do Paleo and has forgone all things dairy. She didn’t sleepwalk and open a watermelon flavored yogurt. Why should she have to clean it up?!
My five-year-old daughter is allowed to express her feelings outwardly, for now, at least. At what point will she bottle it up? At what point will I have to pry things out of her? When will her outward actions not align with her inward thoughts?
My son has already learned this. Last year, kids picked on him. He is smart and a bit of a people pleaser. Kids see that. They call it sucking up. Teacher’s Pet, if you will. These things he never told us. We had to find out from his teacher and end-of-the-year conferences. When did we tell him to keep things quiet? I couldn’t remember.
As the weeks get easier, I pray for more settling dust. I pray I see the toothpaste on the shower curtain. I don’t want to pass by it in a rush to get little ones to bed. I pray they open up and acknowledge feelings.
I want to be a safe place for them. Not necessarily a shelter, but more of a guide; a shepherd. Someone to tell them it is okay to be scared. It is okay to be different. It is okay to take this path. They can cry and scream as long as they keep going. And maybe, just maybe, one day they will start wiping toothpaste on a freaking towel.