This morning I diagnosed Ax with a terrible case of school-itis. He did not want to go to school. I looked at him: No signs of physical illness beyond tiredness from an active weekend. No signs of physical abuse at the hands of a school bully.
“Sweetheart,” I said, “I believe you have school-itis.”
“What’s that?” He asked.
“It’s when a person does not want to go to school. I used to get it all the time when I was your age. It’s very common.”
“So I don’t have to go to school?”
“You do have to go to school, but you don’t have to feel good about it or even show up full of energy and enthusiasm. You can just go and be quiet and I’ll pick you up right at the end and we’ll come home and Lego and relax. How does that sound?”
“Good except that I don’t want to go at all. I want to build a big lego fort and hide in it all day with you.”
“Oooh that sounds really nice. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to make an imaginary fort and hide in it with you all day long while you go to school and I do what I have to do. How does that sound?”
“That’s not what I mean. I want to stay home.”
And inside I’m thinking, “Shit it is flu season, maybe he’s getting sick,” and “Crap is he being bullied?” and, “Maybe first grade is just too much of a grind! I gotta get this kid to Waldorf ...”
But what I said was, “The only cure for school-itis is going to school. So let’s go because I know you like to get there early so we have plenty of time and don’t have to rush. It will feel way worse if we are late.”
“Okay,” he said, gloomily.
In the car I felt a little conflicted, how could I be proselytizing all this kindness crap and still force my kid to go to school?
Was a I just a total hypocrite? Was I teaching him to override his feelings and desires even as I was preaching the honoring of them so many other days?
I thought about mentioning that it was the law to bring him to school, but decided against it because then he’d demand I bring him even on a day when he was legitimately ill, puking and feverish. I thought about telling him how important it was to learn, but decided against it because it’s not what he needed and obviously I think that’s important since I’m forcing him to school.
I said from the driver’s seat, “My imaginary fort is going to be red with black towers and bridges. What does yours look like?”
“I don’t want an imaginary fort.”
“I’m sorry honey. What would the best mom do or say to you right now?”
“The best mom would take me home and would not say anything.”
“Oh,” I said, as we parked at his school.
And outside Ax spied a fellow first grader friend getting out of a car near us.
“Hey there’s Shane!” he exclaimed, as if seeing Ninjago’s Lord Garmadon or, if you like, Jerry Garcia, come to life before his eyes.
I got the car in park before he flew out and joined his buddy. The two of them ran to class and fell into routine, hanging backpacks on hooks, placing library books in assigned baskets, folders in their spots, before morning assembly.
I called to Ax, “Have a good day honey, I love you!” and got a half wave and possibly a smile in return. School-itis healed, for today. And now I will heal my Monday-itis the same way, by getting into the week, but gently, gently. I’m gonna keep going.