We’re holding hands walking across the parking lot when she spots them. Although it’s been a good six months since she’s been there, she remembers the big blue and green dinosaurs on the preschool playground.
“Mom! Mom! Look! I see the blue dinosaur and the green dinosaur! ‘Hello green dinosaur!’ ‘Hello Bella!’ ‘Where are you going, Bella?’ ‘I’m going to school, green dinosaur!’ ”
It’s the morning of the preschool open house, and I’m nervous. On the one hand, I know Bella is not the same child that prompted a Hallway Mom to inquire whether or not I had ever had her evaluated for psychological disorders this past fall. She’s grown by leaps and bounds, her little personality blossoming. On the other hand, she’s still Bella. She’s intense, and gets very focused on what she’s doing. She does things her own way, in her own time, so transitions can be tough. Pushing her into a decision or situation that she’s not comfortable with is a mistake. Just in case you don’t realize it’s a mistake because of the loud “NO! NO (INSERT WHATEVER ACTIVITY YOU THOUGHT WAS SO IMPORTANT TEN SECONDS AGO BUT ARE NOW SERIOUSLY HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT)!!!!!”, you’ll realize it was a mistake because of the screaming. Also because now she’s extremely horizontal, whereas before she was more vertical. But mostly because of the screaming.
No screaming this morning, though. Bella woke up, came downstairs, ate breakfast, got dressed, and happily decided to leave her TV show to go to school. First transition successfully completed! We walked into the double doors and down the hallway. “Phaedra’s school! Look Mom, we at Phaedra’s school!”
“Yes, Bella! This will be Bella’s school next year!”
“Wow, Bella’s school? Bella’s school!”
While I continue to silently pray that the eggshells beneath my feet stay strong, we walk up to the check-in table and have our pictures taken. As I sign in, Bella realizes the classroom door is wide open. The previously tantalizing (yet always closed) doorway to Funsville is now wide open and filled with toys. She wastes no time at all. “Wow, I going to PLAY!!!!”, zipping through the door without a glance back.
I watch her take a couple of laps around the room to check things out. Eventually, she settles in at the Mr. Potato Head table, and proceeds to spend 45 minutes charming the hell out of two high school co-op students. She chatters away, narrating the conversation between Mama Potato and Bella Potato (apparently, Mama Potato orders pizza for Bella Potato; art imitates life). I take a couple of walks around the room to see how she does on her own. She’s 100% fine. Happy to see me, but too engrossed in the drama of the Potato family to pay me much mind.
At the next table, coloring a picture with a man and a woman (parents? grandparents? not sure) is a little blonde girl. She alternates between coloring, screaming “NO!!!!! STOP!!!! AAAAAAHHHHH”, swatting away the picture the man gamely holds up for her to see, and writhing on the floor while her handlers try to cajole her into her seat. I’m hypnotized. It’s like watching a video of Bella on any given day, except it wasn’t Bella. I can’t believe that I’m watching another child melt down while mine happily plays next to me. Her entourage are obviously old pros at this game, because they handle her outbursts perfectly: not too pushy, but not too wishy-washy. Just firm enough in their expectations and tone that let her know who is in charge, but not so firm that it sets off another round of screeching hysterics. I resist a crazy impulse to run over and hug the girl, but just barely.
Bella surprises me again by chirping, “Bye Mom, see you soon!” when I disappear for fifteen minutes for the parents’ meeting. The eggshells finally crunch as I drop off the registration form in the teacher’s office: Bella spots the Beanie Babies above the teacher’s desk. Up she goes on the teacher’s chair, onto the desk, plucking the horse off the shelf. She climbs back down and starts to walk away, as if she’s just at Grandma’s house and chose the toy she was going to take home that day. After intense negotiations that involve picking up every single Beanie Baby from the shelf and giving it a hug, they eventually break down when Bella tries to begin another round of hugs and has to be forcibly, loudly removed from the office.
I can safely say that Bella enjoyed her time at preschool, and is looking forward to the fall. I base this on the fact that it took us four attempts at walking towards the car (three of them ending in her suddenly turning around and running back to the bench outside the doors, the last one ending in me carrying her to the car against her will), the screaming fit she had at home when she wouldn’t take off her seat belt or come in to the house, and her wailing demands the next day that I pull out of Grandma’s driveway and go “THIS WAAAAAAY”, evidently pointing in the direction I should drive to take her back to school. That all sounds terrible, but they’re all very good things. Partly because she likes school so much, but also because she doesn’t call it “school”.
She calls it “squirrel”. She cries to go to squirrel. She loves squirrel! TAKE ME TO SQUUUUUIIIIIRRRRREEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m not worried about squirrel, because squirrel is going to be awesome this year.