The first day of school. I'd been dreading it all summer. For weeks before school re-opened I'd been feeling like I used to before a major exam for which I was ill prepared and when the first day of school finally dawned I woke up with clammy hands and a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Naturally I couldn't let Nikki cotton on to how anxious I really was, so I valiantly kept up my dual faced act of quivering with dread at the thought of school in private and acting all jolly and gung-ho about it when Nikki was around. I was really beginning to feel quite schizophrenic about the whole concept of playschool at the end of it. It didn't help that the week before school opened I went shopping for school supplies with a bunch of Equally Paranoid and Hyper Over Protective Moms who spent the entire time discussing all the horrible things that could happen to a hapless two year old, left alone to fend for herself in the big bad world of playschool. Or the Assorted Pesky People I met at the park who'd earlier ask 'What?! She's not at school yet?' and who had now coolly switched to 'What?! You're sending her to school so early?!'.
The whole thing was really beginning to get to me and I couldn't help feeling a pang when the day finally dawned when Nikki would have to go to school all by herself for the first time ever. As we arrived at school, I couldn't help feeling wistful and a little envious of all the mothers with younger kids who were happily trotting off to the Mother & Toddler class together. This was the same school where I'd first come with Nikki when she was just a fifteen month old baby, just about beginning to take her first wobbly steps. This was where we'd spent a whole year together attending the Mother Toddler program ourselves. And now I was expected to just leave her there by herself!
Nikki herself was seemingly unaffected by this momentous occasion and even seemed happy to be back at her beloved school. That was till the teacher showed up and tried taking her from my arms, when she promptly let out a belligerent howl and demanded that I go in with her. The teacher whisked her off nonetheless, after repeatedly reassuring me that Nikki would be absolutely fine once I was out of sight and left me at the gate feeling bereft. I took myself off to a nearby bench and sat counting the minutes feeling more and more like Cruella de Ville with every passing second. What kind of a mother was I, to have just left my baby in the wilderness like that? I mean it wasn't the wilderness strictly speaking and we had been coming there for a year, so Nikki was familiar with the place, but still! She was not even two and a half yet! My baby! I was just about to call P to tell him we were making a horrible mistake with this whole playschool thing when I saw the teacher re-emerge with a familiar looking little figure in her arms. Nikki! She was back! Was it just my imagination or did she look a little pink about the eyes? She'd probably been crying her eyes out inside, poor little angel! I rushed towards the gate as a high pitched Bollywood-esque 'haai mera bachha!' rang out in my mind and reached for Nikki.
"She was absolutely fine!" the teacher informed me with a beam.
"Oh no! Haai....Eh? What? She was fine?" I gaped back at her.
"Oh yes, she had a great time. See you both tomorrow!" the teacher gave me another bright smile before turning to another anxious mother.
Nikki had been fine by herself! She'd managed perfectly well even though I hadn't been around! Right. So that was all fine then. Except that I wasn't feeling bereft anymore. I was feeling dispensable.
I brought up the matter gently with P that evening.
"Nikki doesn't need me anymore!" I screeched "Two years of spending every waking moment with me and now she trots off with that beastly teacher without so much as a second glance, the little ingrate! She had a good time at school today! What am I going to do?"
"Er, I'm sure you'll get used to it eventually honey" P smiled weakly before suddenly remembering an important official dinner for which he needed to leave that very instant, leaving me alone in my misery.
Get used to it indeed! Bah! I was not going to just let that teacher steal Nikki from me while I stood by the sidelines cooling my heels. No sir, I was going to fight right back and show that teacher how indispensable I really was! Hadn't I been voted the most enthu mommy dancer back at the mother toddler class? Hadn't my moves for 'Dorothy The Dinsosaur' been emulated by all the others? Get used to it! Pshaw!
So I was ready for the teacher when she showed up at the gate to take Nikki from me the next morning.
"Maybe I should accompany you till the classroom?" I suggested in a gentle but firm voice "Being her Primary Care Giver, it may help alleviate her separation anxiety."
"Oh that's not required" the teacher replied equally firmly, "It might upset the other children. Besides Nikki has settled in pretty well, she's fine without you inside."
"But she'll have so much more fun if I come too!" I was desperate now "It says on the activity sheet that you have the Wiggly Woo dance activity planned for today and I'm an ace at Wiggly Woo! Why back in the mother toddler class I...."
"Er right, I'm sure you were wonderful!" the teacher interrupted nervously "But we really must go now and Nikki will be fine! Don't worry!" she shot off like a rocket with another nervous glance at me as if I was going to start doing the Wiggly Woo right there! As if! That little twitch I'd given when I was talking to her was just a muscular spasm. Or something.
I spent the rest of the time kicking up a dust storm and pretty much achieving my targeted calorie burning for the quarter as I anxiously paced up and down outside the school building, till a worried looking teacher came out to offer me a cup of coffee and a magazine and told me to 'please just relax'. Nikki came out soon enough with the teacher, beaming and looking as happy as could be. And then, instead of jumping into my arms, she turned around and gave the teacher a high five and a flying kiss! I must have turned a visible shade of green because the teacher took me aside and patted me kindly on the arm "I understand that this is a worrying phase for you but don't worry! This is a settling in phase for the parent as much as the child. And Nikki is doing well, she's with us for just half an hour now but she's settling in so well that we can increase it to an hour next week onwards!"
Yeah right! First an hour and then two whole hours! And before I know it she'll be leaving for college and telling me she needs her space! But I'm damned if I'm giving up without a fight! For starters I showed Nikki who was the real ace at Wiggly Woo with my live stand-up act at dinner last evening. And there was really no reason for P to get all upset. Okay so maybe I did go a little overboard when I asked Nikki if the teacher could do the Wiggly Woo as well as me (huh? huh?)but I mean, she was the one who started it with the high five-ing and the flying kisses all over the place! Still, P insists I need to learn how to let go and stop behaving like a sap and I should be happy that Nikki is bonding with her teacher at school. Hmph. What does he know? He has no idea about the kind of pressure teachers put on the kids nowadays- I heard some horror stories from the Equally Paranoid and Hyper Over Protective Moms just the other day. In fact some of them are even considering homeschooling for their kids so that they don't have to....Hey! Waitaminit. Homeschooling! No more sending your child away for two whole hours. No more high-five-ing and flying-kisses and 'Oh I love my teacher'...no more having to work my butt off (quite literally) to perfect my moves at Dorothy The Dinosaur. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...