Alice was a wreck the night before her screening at Marin Country Day School. Generally, she's a good sleeper but sometimes, she simply can't fall asleep. We have a regular bedtime routine: bath, jammies, books, a song, hugs and kisses, back rub, a few more kisses, more hugs. And then I walk out the door and Alice and her brother, Sam, usually chat and giggle for a few minutes and doze off. But every now and then, Alice can't get to the Land of Nod. She'll lie quietly in her room for a while—sometimes an hour. I'll think she's fast asleep until she walks into the living room and says, "Mommy, I'm having a hard time. I can't sleep." This is just what happened last Wednesday night. And of course, when she said she was struggling to sleep, I got tense—because this was an important night for rest.
I walked Alice back to her bedroom and gave her more kisses and hugs—and then as I walked out of the room, she started to sob, uncontrollably. I tried to remain calm, taking lots of deep breaths, counting to 10 repeatedly in my head. I rubbed her back. I sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, 30 times in a row. I told her a story about a rabbit who ate apples instead of carrots. And then I just lay down next to her, my body completely frozen while my heart pounded rapidly and my mind raced. I was thinking, "Fall asleep. You must fall asleep. What if she doesn't fall asleep? Okay, fall asleep now. I'm going crazy. Fall asleep!" Finally, by 10 p.m., Alice was fast asleep. (Alice usually goes down between 7 and 8 p.m.) Exhausted, I collapsed into my bed and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning: I woke up and the bedroom was filled with light—usually it's dark when I rise. I look over at my husband and said, "What time is it?"
"If it's after 8 a.m., we're screwed!" (Our screening is in Corte Madera at 9:15 a.m.)
Ryan raced into the kitchen to check the clock, and sure enough it was 8:05 a.m. Our children never ever sleep this late. They're always up by 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. I started to freak out but Ryan assured me that this is a good thing because Alice needed the sleep. A few minutes later Alice walked into the bedroom; she's smiling.
"Mommy, are we going to the kindergarten today?"
"Why yes, why don't you go pick out something to wear," I said in my calmest voice ever. "We're in a bit of a hurry dear, as we all slept a little late. We'll need to eat breakfast in the car."
Alice, my baby little girl, proceeded to go into her bedroom and put on navy blue tights, pink-striped bloomers over the tights (so they don't fall down), a polka-dot skirt, a flowery top, a peach colored sweater, and her black patent-leather shoes. She then brushed her teeth and hair, washed her face, and put a barrette in her hair. She did this entirely by herself. "I'm ready Mom! Let's go!" (Talk about rising to the occasion.)
By 8:30 a.m. and we were all in the car. Sam wasn't even wearing shoes—and my hair and teeth were both unbrushed. Ryan was at the wheel; his hair sopping wet. But Alice—who is an extremely careful particular little girl—was sitting neat and pretty in her car seat, her hands folded in her lap. There was no time to drop Sam off at school so the plan was that Ryan would drive us over to Marin and drop off Alice and me. Then Sam would drive back to the city to drop off Sam and then he would drive back to Marin to pick up Alice and me. Insane!
About a week ago, I had told Alice about the screening. I said, "I've visited lots of kindergartens and I found one that I really love and I want you to go check it out to see if you like it." I didn't have her practice writing her name; I didn't try to teacher her to read in a week. I didn't go out and buy her a new outfit. Really, the only preparation we did was visit MCDS a few weekends earlier for a book fair, so Alice was familiar with the school.
In the car, Ryan and I were getting a little stressed. The traffic was some of the worst we had ever experienced in the city—of course. We moved at a snail's pace along 19th and then we were entirely stopped on the bridge. I was convinced that we were going to be late—and I'm one of those people who is almost never late. Ryan called the school and left a message with the admissions director to say that we might be a late. Meanwhile, Alice sat quietly in the back of the car.
When we finally pulled up, it was 9:13 a.m.—and pouring down rain. Alice and I raced through the school to the screening room. Three other kids and their parents stood outside; we had made it just in time. We were let into the small room where there were some 10 adults and toys. Alice immediately became very shy. She clung to my leg; she sat in my lap; she wrapped her arms around my neck. We played a bit with some blocks on the carpet—but she wouldn't let go of me. Some of the teachers—who were all warm and friendly—asked her questions and Alice wouldn't say a word.
And then one of the school's admissions directors, Jeff Escabar, said that he was going to read a story and the kids needed to give their parents goodbye hugs and kisses. He spoke in one of those sweet friendly voices that kids love.
As I hugged Alice, I started to feel tears well up in my eyes, and I thought "If she starts to cry, we'll just run. That's what we'll do. We don't have to go through this. I love this school and it's like a dream for her to go here, but we'll run." And then Alice started to release her grip. Ever so slowly she removed her arms from around my neck and she looked deeply into my eyes and whispered, "Bye, bye Mama. I can do this."
Alice stayed in the room until 11 a.m.—and when I went to pick her up she was as happy as a clam. She was wearing a name tag with smiley face stickers on it. She said that she did activities with the teachers and afterward they gave her a sticker. She said that she drew a picture of herself, wrote her name, jumped on one leg, and played—and that's all I was able to get out of her. During the car ride home, she was quiet, but as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, she said, "Mama, I liked that school. I'd like to go there."