Above my desk hangs a photo of the Maiden that I took mid-August. It is the first day of school. No, make that the First Day of School, the Very First Day: she was off to preschool, to a real school for the very first time. I love that picture. She’s dressed in her blue and red uniform and is tightly gripping her packed lunchbox and the butterfly tote bag her Daddy made for her. Her hair is up in a ponytail and her face is flushed rosy pink with excitement, a tiny bit of nervousness, and a good measure of Big Girl-ishness. She can’t wait to start her new adventure.
Fast forward a few weeks. It is 7:50 a.m., twenty minutes til departure time. She is lying on the floor in her pajamas, begging to play with play dough, comic books, or anything that involves not getting in the car and going to school. Breakfast lies half-eaten on the table. Oatmeal is smeared on the chair and in her clean hair. A thin, reedy whine trickles out of her pouting mouth, interspersed with various forms of “no”, “I don’t want to”, and, possibly, “wicked stepmother”.
I lean down, and make a gentle request.
She bursts into tears. Her mouth makes that upside-down-trapezoid shape that means Mummy had better cover her ears and run for shelter. Then come the wails. I have broken her heart. Have I threatened to decapitate her doll and burn her princess dresses on a pyre? Have I demanded that she push a huge boulder up and down a hill for eternity? Have I pricked her finger on a spinning wheel and then turned into an evil dragon and burnt her true love to a crisp?
No. I have asked her to take off her pajamas and get dressed. Right now.
Oh, but she can’t. She doesn’t know how to get dressed, she informs me. Of course. I understand. The child who, since age 22 months, has changed outfits twelve times a day—and can partially button her own shirt, for goodness’ sake!—suddenly has lost the capability to remove a pair of pull-on pajama bottoms.
I’m so not buying it.
I give her the Eye. I set the timer. More wails, especially when the timer rings, and she’s only begun to halfheartedly tug at her pajama top. What is she crying about? I haven’t even threatened to start removing privileges.
That, of course, is the next step. I look her in the eye and calmly warn her that if she’s not dressed in three minutes, flat, Hello-Kitty-from-Santa is going to be spending the rest of the day on top of the fridge.
She sees I mean business, and she gets about hers. Her pj’s are off and the uniform is on in two minutes, flat. By the time the timer rings, she’s wearing a watery smile and asking for a hug. (Asking for a hug is the Maiden’s way of gracefully yielding the victory to me while still saving face).
But she’s still nursing a secret grudge, and she spends half the car ride to school grumbling about whatever dreadful sufferings the life of a three-year-old entails. The other half of the trip is spent whining for her Mickey Mouse CD. I weigh the annoyance of Mickey’s non-singing voice with the steady drone of pain issuing from the back seat. I settle in favor of Mickey, and the rest of the car ride is as peaceful as it can be with “Do Your Ears Hang Low” blaring with a happy beat that does not reflect the mood of either of the car’s occupants.
We arrive at school. Suddenly, the Maiden is all smiles. She can’t get in the door fast enough. Crankiness? What crankiness? School is a wonderful place. Exciting things are going to happen. See you later, Mummy.
I come home, take an aspirin, resist the temptation to go back to bed, and sit down at the computer. I look up, and see the Maiden’s happy school picture.
I sigh, laugh, and cry.
Tomorrow is another day.