Last fall, we decided to enroll Mac in kindergarten at my alma mater. I wasn’t so sure he (um, I) was ready for “big school,” but I felt that he needed the social interaction. He already knew his ABC’s and I23’s, but he still had a ways to go when it came to sharing. He needed to learn how to walk in a line and keep his hands to himself and pick up what he pulls out. So though I wasn’t sure I was ready to send him, I felt like he needed to go. It would be good for him. When I enrolled him, I didn’t know his teacher. All I knew was he had Ms. Lori.
Mac immediately adjusted, and so did I. I soon found out (not from him, as he doesn’t tell me anything…the life of being the mama of a boy) that he was doing just fine. The most trouble (I know) he got in was when he stomped on Rhett’s foot and Ms. Lori had to tell him if he did it again, he couldn’t wear his boots to school anymore. (I felt much better when I found out Rhett told him to “step on it hard.”) Part of what made the adjustment so easy was because Ms. Lori was the kindergarten teacher every mama dreams of. She is the mother of 4, so I knew refereeing a bunch of 3-year-olds would make her feel right at home. She has a softness about her, that sweet way of talking to the kids on their level that makes them trust her and want to please her. She gave lots of hugs, and praised them for things they did well. She prayed with them every morning and gave them a job to do (and Mac was always disappointed when he had to “take the day off.”) She planned fun activities that incorporated learning. Many days something would come out of his mouth that I knew he had not learned at home, and when I asked him where he heard that he’d say, “Ms. Lori told me.” She made sure that she sent me pictures when they did something cute, and that made me feel like I was being included in his day. She let him bring his tractors to school and talked to him about farming. She invested in them, and she treated them like they were hers. But the best part about Ms. Lori was, she realized they were babies. She took them as they were, fighting for independence but still too short or too small or just too “3” to do what they wanted to do, and she let them be that.
One day I was called to come get Mac because he was running fever. I tore into the school and found Ms. Lori, sitting in one of those tiny little kindergarten chairs, cradling my son while he laid his head against her chest and slept. I knew we had hit the jackpot, and that my son was a lucky little boy.
Today was my Mac’s last day of 3K. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t make a big deal of that fact except to tell Mac I would take him to the John Deere place when I picked him up that afternoon to spend $20.00 he got for his birthday. I didn’t really make that promise because I felt it would be appropriate to mark the end of 3K with John Deere; I made it because he asks me every afternoon when I pick him up if the John Deere store is open and if he can get a new cotton picker. Attempting to keep him from thinking he can get a new toy every single time he asks, I’ve put him off. So, I figured today may be a good day. I am getting off of work early. I found the $20.00 bill this morning in the drawer where I left it. So I felt like today was as good a day as any.
I took Mac to school this morning and Ms. Lori and a few other mothers were in the room, wiping tears. I wasn’t. On my mind was the fact that I had only gone in on the class gift for her and had not done something special for her yet. I wanted her to know much I appreciated her, how grateful I was for her, but I had not taken the time yet to sit down and express it in a card the way I wanted. So I was a little embarrassed because I was empty handed. Maybe that is what kept me from being emotional. I also had 30 things on my mind that I knew had to get done before, during, and after work, so I suppose I was just not anywhere close to a sentimental state. Though I realized this is a sad day for her, for our kids, for us, I wasn’t feeling it yet.
I went home and took care of the pre-work duties that had to get finished, and while doing so, realized Mac had left his backpack in the car. I knew Ms. Lori was sending home end of the year papers and such, and I didn’t want him to have to carry and keep up with it all or I may never see them. So, on my way to work I pulled up to the school, intending to run in, deposit the backpack on the little hook in his room, and be on my way.
I walked in to his room to find all of those little 40-or-so inch people sitting in their tiny little chairs waiting on Ms. Lori to push play on the DVD player. For whatever reason, my son was the only one sitting on the floor right in front of the t.v. (Reminder to self: Find out if he can he see the big “E” on the eye chart.) His back was to me, but turned when I said, “Forgot to leave Mac’s backpack.” She had this look on her face like, “Backpack? Oh yeah, those. Got something much more important going on right now….” As she pushed play and said to her kids, “Ok, here we go!” I could hear a tiny crack in her voice. Mac, of course, ran up to me and gave me a hug, and over his head I looked back up at the t.v. to see what they were watching. I expected to see a Disney movie to pass the last hour of their school year, as I knew they were probably wild as Indians all morning; instead, I saw their little faces, smiling out at me. It was a DVD of their year. A video yearbook, if you will, and it took my breath. Lori just looked at me with a knowing smile and tears glistening in her eyes, and she said to me, “There will be one in his backpack when he gets home.”
I high-tailed it out of that room, and the tears came fast and furious. At that moment, I was not my son’s mama. I was an imposter, and I had no right to be there. This was her time with her babies. This was her time to watch with them their march through 3K with her as their leader. It was her time to smile with them and laugh and say, “Remember when you did that? Remember when you learned that? Remember when that happened? That was so funny! That was so smart of you! That was so brave of you! I was so proud of you! Remember? Remember that?” It was her time for them to pull her close to them when a picture came on the screen of her at their side, posing with the puppy dog she brought for them to meet, piled up in the tent, waving from their home center, covering their ears at the pep rally, on the bus to a field trip, sitting in her lap being loved on. It was her time for them to say, “That was so much fun, Ms. Lori! Are you sure we will get to do that next year? Are you sure it will be as much fun? Are you sure Ms. Robin will know that I don’t like it when it thunders really loud? Are you sure that when we just need one of your special hugs, you will be right next door? Are you sure?” It was her time for them to look at her with those big, ole innocent eyes and let her assure them with her soft hands and sweet smile and loving words that yes, yes, she was sure, of course she was sure, and don’t you worry about it, ok? And it was her time to tell each of them how special they are in their own little, individual ways and that she really feels like they all belong to her and that if she could pack them up and take them with her, she would. It was their time. It was their time to recall the memories they had made together, and no matter how much I wanted to stand at the door to Ms. Lori’s room and watch that video from beginning to end, it was not my place. Those were not my memories, and that was not my time. It was theirs.
Mac will, undoubtedly, bring home his forgotten backpack this afternoon full of goodies and we will go to the John Deere place and get a cotton picker and probably an Icee from the gas station on our way home if he doesn’t act like too much of a hoodlum while we shop. We will get home and I’ll unzip his bag and pretend to discover this little disk and ask him to show it to me. He will take it from me and do his best to put it in the DVD player by himself, and then I’ll have to help, and when we finally get it to play we will snuggle up together on the couch and he’ll narrate his year for me….his year with Ms. Lori. And I will be invited in to his little world, but only after the fact, because every image on that disk has already happened, it has already been, and it already belongs to them. I will only be allowed to witness it because Ms. Lori let me.
At the beginning of the year, I cried as I watched my little boy walk up that big ole sidewalk to the front door of his new school and I thought, “Will he be okay? Will he have everything he needs? Will he think I’ve just dropped him off in this strange place and that I’ve forgotten him?” Now, I cry because the year is over and he’s grown so much and I realize just how silly I was to worry. He was more than okay. He had more than everything he needed. He didn’t feel forgotten because, even if he ever wondered where I was, he knew he was safe. He knew he was cherished. He knew someone was looking out for him. He knew someone would wipe his tears and tie his shoes and remind him that sometimes we all get grumpy and that’s okay. And he knew where to go when he just needed to feel familiar arms around him to squeeze him and kiss his cheek and make him smile that big, bright smile.
Because he had Ms. Lori. And I thank God for that.