The Fifty-Third Chart

By Ekta R. Garg

August 24, 2012

We’ve started school this week, and everything and nothing is familiar to me.

The familiar parts come in the uniform Six donned Monday morning and her choice of juice for her lunch (I buy the boxes of Capri Sun’s 100 percent juice from Costco and then play Russian Roulette with the flavors, choosing them at random and dropping them into her lunchbox at night.)  The familiar parts also come as we go through the morning-drop-off and afternoon-pick-up routines.  And the familiarity also returns in the quiet of the house at those times when the kids aren’t home, a time where I can hear the thoughts in my head.

But changes have crept into all this familiarity.  Six needed a new backpack for school, so she and I went to T.J. Maxx one Sunday evening and she picked one out.  Truthfully I really didn’t like it, but because she did and I wanted her to enjoy the luxury of autonomy this particular time I simply smiled and checked the tag.  When we discovered the backpack’s moderate price, we both walked out of the store happy.

Also, Four is required to wear uniforms this year too.  She only has to wear them on Mondays and Tuesdays—the school administration thought it a fair compromise to help the pre-K students start getting used to the idea that they’ll eventually wear uniforms every day of the week—but on those two days she looks drastically different to me.  Like a big girl.

And the biggest change has come to me in the kids themselves.  Today is only the fifth day of school, but they already seem so much older to me.

Four’s official start time to her day is 8:45, but because she has an older sibling in an elementary class Four enters the school around 8:15 or 8:20.  We aren’t the only family with this situation, of course, and the school has designated certain classrooms where the younger children can wait until 8:45 when their teachers come for them.

Monday morning brought the same rush of excited parents and confusion that every new school year begins—adults are milling around trying to get those “first day of school” photographs and walking with their students to class.  Naturally the teachers do all they can to keep the chaos to a minimum, and because Four’s nature is one of “I can do it myself” she entered the school without a peep.  When she got to her section inside the school, though, she didn’t know whose classroom to go to.

Had I been in this situation, I think I would have probably spent a lot of time standing in the hallway looking very confused.  But Four didn’t.  She assessed the situation and then went to the same early-morning classroom she used to go to last year.  She stayed put until her teacher eventually found her, and as she relayed all this to me that afternoon she seemed unperturbed.

I called the school and found out where she really needed to go, and on another day this week she and I walked to that classroom together.  But her presence of mind and quick thinking on how to resolve the problem all by herself astounded me.

Six has had her own moments to astonish me, though.  Sometime during the last weekend Six must have picked up a few cold germs, because by the time she sat in the car on Monday afternoon she complained of a sore throat.  The sore throat persisted throughout Tuesday evening and then turned into a cold (what we call “the sniffles”) by Wednesday morning.

But because it’s a minor cold she’s remained fairly active, talking and joking around in her normal way.  And that’s why I didn’t think twice one night when I asked her to help set the table with her sister, as the girls usually do.  Six is the “Spoon Helper,” handing out any needed silverware, and Four is my “Napkin Helper,” making sure every person eating has a napkin (and she gets a kick out of putting three or four napkins by her father’s plate to tease him that he’s extra messy.)

When I call from the kitchen, “Spoon Helper, Napkin Helper!” the girls usually come (sometimes some minimal grumbling comes with them at having to leave behind whatever games or art masterpieces had kept them engaged.)  But on this night, when their grandfather called them, Six refused right off the bat.  I could feel a lecture rising to the surface as I rounded the wall separating the kitchen from the family room, but Six forestalled me by explaining that she didn’t want to set the spoons because she didn’t want to pass on any of the germs from her sniffles to anyone else.

Astonished.  That’s the only way I can describe how I felt at this child’s thoughtfulness and foresight.  I told her I appreciated her concern for the family and then explained that if she washed her hands (with the antibacterial soap we have in the dispensers in all the bathrooms) and then went straight from there to set the table, we would be okay.

After that I noticed how she ordered her sister not to stand too close to her in order to spare her, again, from the germs.  And then on Wednesday when Six woke up with a low fever and my husband suggested she stay home for the day, Four made it a point to ask her sister as soon as she saw her how she felt.

The unfamiliarity stretches across our morning routine too.  Last year I remember waking up some mornings just dreading the rush we endured of teeth brushing-shower taking-bed making-breakfast eating-shoe wearing-bag grabbing-and powerwalking to the car.  Every single morning.  And although I’m a little ashamed to say it, I spent several mornings with my voice at a near yell as I urged the girls to hurry up and get through their breakfasts otherwise we’d be late.

But this year things have already begun to progress so much faster.  Somehow the girls have finished their breakfasts every morning this week to have 10 or 15 minutes to spare.  I can wash the breakfast dishes before getting out of the house.  And we can all stroll—well, stroll at a brisk pace—down the sidewalk to the car.

When did these changes take place?  When did it get so easy to get moving in the morning for school or for the kids to dress themselves or shower themselves or eat all on their own?

But I guess all of these things and the way my week has gone leads me to the universal question that all parents ask.

When did my kids grow up?

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