If you look closely at the two pictures, you can see our sweet boy. In the first, there is a foot – barely – under the chair on the right. In the second, a flash of blonde and his airplane-blue pajamas, over near the window. Our walls are still covered in forgotten train schedules, Lego people rest abandoned on bookshelves, and he remains “a blur of color!”, as he shouted triumphantly all summer long, on each race through the house. But now he is racing through mornings at kindergarten, because as Catherine Newman beautifully put it, they leave us in increments.
There is no definitive reason that kindergarten should feel so different. Time-wise, he is spending the same twenty hours each week at school that he spent last year – and distance wise, he is precisely as far from home, albeit in the opposite direction across our little neighborhood. But there is something lost, or maybe not lost, but behind us now on the path: long mornings rambling around together, a shared shorthand, routines that were just and only for me and my boys.
We spent days and weeks and months and years together, our daily frames of reference identical. Our co-op preschool is as familiar to me as to them, and now – he speaks of Writer’s Workshop, and Job Stations, and picnic tables where they eat, and I have only the most fleeting images of his new universe. He names kids haphazardly – Robert and Davis, Ryan and Flynn – and I try to grasp their identifying details. He comes home exhausted, and I try not to heap my eagerness for details on him. But I collect them, as he lets them trickle out, and I try not to spend too much time piecing them together. When he is gone in the mornings I feel the slant of autumn-near light acutely, somewhere close to my heart.
For the first time in his school attendance, I feel fear. Not the fear that rests thick over some schools and communities, not the fear that comes of everyday danger and chronic disadvantage. This is fear of a different order, but persistent nonetheless. As the boys in his class group up in the early mornings to kick soccer balls, he is oblivious, intent on his own game of jumping (“I can jump a second, and a third, and almost a fourth!” he crows, and his music theory reference seems lost on the crowd). When I ask him who he played with today, he looks uncertain. How did the kids become my friends? he asks, thinking about his old school.
For Labor Day we skipped school and headed to my cousin’s wedding in Blue Lake, driving up to the Mad River Valley for a magic-and-family-filled weekend. It felt like a reprieve, like the school part was a strange dream, like we were back on our regular summer schedule. On the way home we stopped along the Avenue of the Giants with Dan and Kate and the girls. I wrestled with the idea that we would have fewer and fewer of these days, days without school bells or agendas. Our children played and hiked and climbed among trees so ancient we couldn’t fathom it. “This one is a grandmother tree,” said Sonia, reverence held so easily amidst their joyful exploration. There is so much world, everywhere, to behold.
There are no doubt things gained in this new experience of school. Independence, connection to our broader community, the crisp early mornings spent walking over the hill and down the long stairway to the door of Ms. Green’s class. I’m easing into those mornings, those walks. When we walk I carry joy, and a little heartache, and so much love for this child of mine. He is challenging and delightful, thoughtful and intense. He is energetic, brimming over with enthusiasm, racing ahead and doubling back over the gray sidewalk, a brave and brilliant blur of color.
Such is the passage of time, too fast to fold
Suddenly swallowed by signs, lo and behold
Gonna rise up, find my direction magnetically
Gonna rise up, throw down my ace in the hole …
The last two weeks, we have made a big pot of steel cut oats on Sunday night, and used it to power us through the first few mornings of our school days. I use Megan Gordon’s delicious toast-the-oats first technique, and the butter plus a cup of whole milk make this what my Grandma Roe would have called “a stick to your ribs” breakfast for the boys; important, with all they have to do in their days. It also gets me through to lunch, when I get to sit down with both of them again, and things feel quite as they should. You can of course use whatever toppings you like best: I list some of our favorites down below.
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups steel-cut oats
6 cups water
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Maple syrup, brown sugar, walnuts, raisins, etc for serving.
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the oats, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are toasty and fragrant but not burnt. Add the water, milk, and salt to the pan and bring everything just to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a very slow simmer, and partially cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping and scorching, until the mixture has thickened and the oats are soft, about 25 minutes. It should still be fairly loose cereal: it will continue to thicken as it cools and then sits. Put it into a pan you can keep in your fridge (I like to use a brownie-sized baking pan).
The next morning, to make four servings of oatmeal, cut a wedge that is about 1/3 of your pan. Put it in a saucepan with a pat of butter and a pour of boiling water from your tea kettle, and heat over low heat until it is heated through. (Add more water or milk as needed to loosen/thin.) Serve with brown sugar and raisins (Lucas), brown sugar and nuts (Jacob), brown sugar and raisins and nuts (Kyle) or just plain (me). Feel fortified, and ready for that long walk to school.