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Faith in Vermont: How School Does Not Solve All Problems

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Posted on September 8, 2015 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



At the start of every summer, I focus all my hope on the first day of school. When school begins again, I tell myself, everything will be okay. I can survive those long, hot days of summer vacation because the first day of school will arrive to usher in a new era of sanity.  On that day, I will bid a fond farewell to my oldest children at 7:30 AM, and greet them as they thump down the bus steps at 3:20 PM, exhausted and full of knowledge. I picture myself leaving their school after that first morning drop-off like a Disney princess: birds singing sweetly around my head, deer approaching me shyly – maybe I’ll even attempt a twirl for good measure.

And every year I am shocked --  shocked! – at how school fails to be the happy ending I’d expected.

Don’t get me wrong: Most of life is easier to navigate with only two children (as opposed to four), so I am grateful for those hours during which school leaves me with only half of my offspring. I am also deeply grateful that my two school-age children are so happy at their school that they run to their classrooms each morning.

Here’s what I forget: making lunches every night, helping to pack and unpack backpacks twice a day, signing off on daily reading logs, the countless papers that tumble out of take-home folders for me to read and sign. And most of all: how my children become emotional disaster zones during the first month of school.

Yes, they thump down the bus steps exhausted and full of knowledge. Then they walk into the house and spend the 4 hours until dinner melting down: there are tears, screams, sibling fights, talking back to parents.

I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is an annual occurrence; the side effect of my children transitioning from summer days of water play and ice cream and late bedtimes, to school days filled with listening attentively and following orders and 6:30 AM wake-ups. 

Above all, the back-to-school transition reminds me that my children are bottomless pits of need for attention and affection. During the summer they’re with me almost all day, every day; during the school year they’re away from me for most of the day. When they come home from school they aren’t merely tired, they’re craving my attention like they’ve just emerged from weeks in the desert and I’m an oasis.

You might think that having four children would mean that my children require less of my attention and affection; that they’d each understand that they’re not the most important being on the planet and that my focus needs to be divided equally by four.

You’d think wrong.

It hit me, very early into my parenting career, that there was not enough of me to go around; there would never be enough of me to go around. That was back when I had only one child.

 My firstborn is still the most needy of my children. Although her younger sister arrived on the scene when she was under two years old, somewhere deep in her subconscious she still remembers when she was the direct recipient of undivided attention from two parents. Who are these three interlopers, and why are they stealing my show? she seems to be always wondering.

So it was that, three days into the new school year, my oldest child let me know that I was not paying enough attention to her. I might have tried to reason with her, but instead I invited her to take a hike with me.

We would hike up Chipman Hill. This was a hike that I’d done throughout the summer with a friend: It’s a mildly challenging up-and-down trail, with a bench at the hill’s summit affording nice views across the valley to the Green Mountains. My friend and I usually did this hike in roughly 45 minutes.

So one Sunday afternoon my daughter and I set off with our dog to climb Chipman Hill. Rather than take the steeper, winding dirt trail off of Washington Street Extension, I chose to go up Springside Road, circle the summit, and come down High Street. This meant an ascent and descent on paved roads, with a wooded interlude.

Intentional attempts at quality time are never quite as glowing as we expect.

The entire trip took us roughly 2-and-a-half hours. Halfway up Springside, my usually athletic daughter’s knuckles were dragging on the pavement. “I’m so tired. Can we rest here? I’m dehydrated. Can I have a drink?”

Every 10 minutes, both going up and coming down, I dissuaded her from flopping down in some stranger’s front yard.

But at the hill’s summit, we had a moment of magic. We sat on the bench, she sketched the valley, and we talked about school and life. Those 15 minutes made the entire trip worthwhile.

That night, at bedtime, the same daughter looked at me and said, “I just don’t feel like you pay enough attention to me.”

The moment struck me as both laughable and tragically universal. Aren’t we all bottomless pits of need, walking around with invisible holes in our hearts? School doesn’t solve all of our problems; neither, apparently, does love.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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