Without fail, each September on the night before the first day of school, I could not sleep. Sometime around two in the morning, I'd creep into my mother's bedroom, and I'd will her to wake up. If my will betrayed me, I'd force the issue by shaking her. She was always surprisingly obliging at these times, and I'd slide into bed next to her. Though sleep was still elusive, I was calmed by my proximity to her body. But I was never calmed by her sleepily mumbled, though well-intentioned, questions meant to serve as therapy for the intractable problem of my insomnia: "What do you think will happen tomorrow? How bad could it be?"
It was not the fear of future unpleasantness that kept me awake; it was just plain uncertainty. I could not abide not knowing where my classroom was, who my classmates would be, what my teacher would be like. The unknown causes most people to feel nothing more than a slight and gentle sensation of pressure. For my son and me and others like us, it's not pressure but pain we feel.
For the last few months, my son has been trying to finagle his way out of riding the bus next year. His efforts at self-preservation are not lost on me. I ache with the knowledge of what he is feeling, what he is fearing. But I cannot oblige him in this. He must not learn the art of avoidance quite so young. Still, he breaks my heart.
So come September, he will struggle onto that bus. If he resists, I will have to give him a push past the baffled bus driver. And when the bus pulls away, I will be crying, not because my baby is going to kindergarten, as you might expect, but because I cannot keep him from himself.
written in 2007
republished for Jenn