Gift.

The Who got really mad at me tonight. He wanted a bath instead of a shower and he didn’t want me to tell him to stop singing when he was singing. I’m not sure if there were other things. Maybe he was also just really tired. And maybe he was sensing my horrible mood. But whatever the combination of factors was, he was pissed. And he was acting out in tiny ways that slowly escalated. First, by mewing like a kitten — the way he always does when he is sad and wants to make sure I know it. But that got on my nerves and so I nipped it in the bud, which I’m sure didn’t help him any. Then he was doing subtle passive-aggressive things like putting things down with a thump or closing the door a little too roughly. He even started to tell me about it: “Mama, you made me put my socks on the bed and THEN climb off the bed with my WET towel!” But the next thing he did was swing his bathrobe around instead of put it down, swiping everything off the top of his dresser and I nailed him with a loud, firm voice and a threat of no stories.

M* came in at that point and I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but within seconds, he was sobbing on her shoulder, saying how horrible I was and how I made him do all this stuff and how I made him want to kick me and I made him want to cut my face. I wasn’t mad. And I didn’t take it personally. I loved it. I loved that he was being given space to talk about how he felt instead of keeping it all inside or continuing to be passive-aggressive and never actually get a chance to feel it all the way through.

When he sat back down for me to put his socks on, I could see him looking up at me and I wasn’t sure if he was checking to see if I was angry or looking for something else, so I asked if he wanted a hug, which he immediately did. He said he felt sad and worried that he would feel sad forever. M* reminded him that he wouldn’t, even though it felt like he might and she understood that.

I cried when he hugged me, although I don’t think he saw it. I also held back laughter when he was so angry, but I don’t think he saw that either. I tried really hard not to let him. Sometimes his extreme anger and frustration makes me feel like laughing even though I don’t think it’s at all funny. I suspect it’s some kind of discomfort on my part. Some automatic reaction to feelings, which aren’t my specialty.

He’s so lucky. He’s so lucky to have m*, who today was his shoulder to cry on and who encouraged him to feel it all. He’s so lucky to have me, who has also been that for him at other times. He is so lucky to have a place in which to grow up where he is honored and valued and listened to and I’m so lucky that I get to keep witnessing it. Keep seeing what it’s like to have an emotion, express it, feel it, move through it, and be done with it. What gifts we all keep giving one another.

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Flux.

What does a parent do when she knows that public school is probably not the most ideal place for learning, when private schools are exorbitantly expensive, when homeschooling seems like a valid choice, but the thought of every hour of every day with her one child alone sounds challenging, and when the decision has to be made, like, yesterday?

I am an idealist. I think that things can be as good as you’re willing to make them. I believe that, despite how many “American Schools are Ruining Our Children” articles I read, that my child’s school will be different. That my child will not suffer the slings and arrows of a “public school education.” But while I carry my idealist angel on one shoulder, there’s a realist devil on the other. Your child is not that special, says the devil. Your child will be one of at least 25 in his class, the devil says. Your child, no matter how smart and engaged and excited about learning he is, will indeed be herded like an animal into a row of desks, a line in the hallway, a cafeteria crowded with sleepy teenagers on an early Saturday morning to take a long and horrible test. The devil tells me that it’s irresponsible for me to sign my kid up for that fate when there are other options.

(I think it’s important to note the other options here. I acknowledge my privilege here. The privilege of being able, financially, to choose among public, private, or home — of staying home to school or going to work — of even having the time and the education and the space to contemplate this.)

I am public school educated and I am a Big-Government liberal lefty. I am pro-communities, pro-taxes, and pro-education in general. I live in a “good” school district, if by “good” you mean “well-performing” and I will admit that, to an extent, I do. I want my kid to go to public school and have a wonderful experience there and I want to be of help both in the classroom and out in order to make his years there excellent for him and for all the kids who will follow him there. I believe that part of a whole education includes diversity and comfort-zone-testing. I believe that kids who are given all the free rein in the world will have a rude awakening someday when they are big people, out in the world of rules.

After extensive conversation, my wife and I have decided on public school. We have decided that when he is finished with Pre-K at his private pre-school, where he is one of 8 children in his class, he will go on to our local public school, which we have only heard tell about. (I plan to visit, but I haven’t. Maybe when I do, I will feel less conflicted. Or, God forbid, more.) But even though the decision is made, as each day ticks us closer to Fall, 2014, I worry about our decision. I shame myself into believing that I should be homeschooling. That it’s only selfishness keeping me from doing what is best for my child (I’m not convinced homeschooling is best, either. It’s all a little abstract and kind of irrational.)

Is this what it’s just going to be? A lifetime of making decisions and then second-guessing them? Is there a time, as a parent, when you’re actually able to find comfort in the decisions you’ve thoughtfully made? Because right now, it doesn’t seem like it.