I had prepped all summer for my oldest kids, the twins, to head off to Kindergarten.
We prepared in tangible ways. I checked off the list of school supplies: crayons (both twistable and regular), scissors, notebooks, glue sticks: double of everything. We shopped for new clothes and set aside time for hair cuts. We went through the Kindergarten workbooks from their preschool teachers. We practiced opening lunch boxes, granola bars, and applesauce pouches; I showed them what was trash and what to bring home.
I tried to prepare them socially. We talked about how some kids in their class might have different skin colors. Some might have two mommies and some might have only one parent. Some friends might not celebrate the same holidays or eat the same foods we do. I told them I wanted them to do well in school, but the most important thing is for them to be kind.
Emotional preparation was more difficult. I wondered how the long days would affect them, something impossible to prepare them for. Would they be absolutely exhausted when they stepped off the bus at 4:00 pm? Would they need a snack, a hug, a nap?
I made lists to reassure myself. At least I had control over some things. I shopped for crackers and cheese and organic juice boxes for lunch and snack time. I added important dates to our family calendar. I stuck a note on the refrigerator: water bottle, snack pouch, lunch box, juice box, homework folder to help us remember everything in the morning rush.
I thought about how those long days would affect me. Just what was I supposed to do all day with their younger brother? I’ve never had only one kid at home all day. What would I do with Nolan and all three-and-a-half years of his energy, his spirit, his mad drive for socialization?
The first day of school arrived, and as that big yellow bus pulled away that very first morning (they ran on without a look back), I held Nolan in my arms to wave goodbye. And then it happened. His lower lip pouted, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached after the bus in despair once he realized what had happened. His 5 1/2-year old brother and sister, the built-in playmates he’s had for literally his entire life, were gone. And he was left behind.
In all these preparations, I hadn’t taken into account what all this would mean for him. Not once had I thought about how all this would affect Nolan, number three in my trio, born exactly two years and two days after his brother and sister, who wears the same shoe size they do, the three-and-a-half-year-old who is so big strangers frequently stop to ask if they’re triplets.
He babbled in the car that first day as we drove to his own preschool open house.
“But I thought I got to go to Kindergarten, too!” he pouted.
“No, preschool first. Two years, just like Caden and Brooklyn. Then you get to go to Kindergarten.”
“I don’t want to. I want to go to Kindergarten.”
“I know. In two years.”
“No. I want to go now. What’s my bus number?”
I sighed, even while my heart went out to him. This could be a long year.
It struck me immediately how quiet our house is now. Sure, Nolan can more than hold his own on the noise front, but his is the only voice now. He keeps up a steady chatter, stream-of-consciousness style, in the car, but there’s only me to listen and answer all those questions. I’m certainly not as fun to joke around with and I’m definitely lacking in the ha-ha-saying-poopy-butt-is-funny department.
In some ways, it’s calmer. Nolan has the run of the remote during Friday afternoon movie time. There’s no one to fight over the TV but there’s also no one to watch TV with. The superhero cape lies abandoned on the floor after a minute or two of wear. It’s not as much fun to save the world all on your own. The dining table at lunchtime has shrunk down from three to one in an instant. With an older brother and sister who are twins, we didn’t even have the luxury of easing into the transition.
And while he waits all afternoon for them to come home, his brother and sister have their own needs when they step off the bus at the end of the day. Caden arrives home and immediately runs upstairs to play with his LEGOs (*ahem* introvert), while Brooklyn drops off her backpack before seeing if her friends in the neighborhood can play, the ones in different grades or classes who she hasn’t seen all day (*cough* extrovert).
Nolan is left a bit bewildered as his brother and sister do the things they need to recharge at the end of the day, doing things that often don’t involve him.
I’m left a bit bewildered, too, as I wonder what happened to our routine, the schedule that’s been all but set in stone for the past three years, and where do we go from here?
For now, I’ve been trying to keep him (and me) busy. Preschool has started now, three mornings a week to help fill his social tank. We’ve run errands and played with friends and eaten McDonald’s for lunch just because he’s asked.
He’s being given more freedom. I’ve asked, “What do you want to eat?”, “Where do you want to go?”, and “What would you like to play now?” more in the past week than I have in the past five years combined, simply because it’s easier to ask those questions and act on the answers with one child around.
Still, he wants nothing more than to ride on that yellow bus, to have a lunch packed up in his own lunchbox tucked inside his own backpack. The afternoon gets long for both of us as he asks over and over, “Where is Caden and Brooklyn’s bus?”
In two years, really just the blink of an eye, he will join them. My house will be even quieter. But that’s no comfort to him today. Right now, it’s hard to be the one left behind.