After my son’s first day of school, I was exhausted. Like, I-need-a-nap-immediately exhausted. I haven’t felt that tired since…well, come to think of it, since before summer break began.
He’s the one in school. Not much has changed for me. And there’s nothing too tiring about this back-to-school routine. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to having more routine that comes with the school year. So why the exhaustion? I wondered.
And then day two of school hit. Along with the answer.
My body must have simply tuned into the memory of what school days were like during his third grade year. More often than not they begin something like:
“I don’t feel good.” Which progresses to “I hate school” and “I’m not going!” to “It’s my body, and you can’t make me go!” Paper airplanes, clothes and stuffed animals might come flying down the steps, and soon it becomes an all-out attack on me, as if I’m responsible for the creation of public schools. And then there are the times when all my calming tactics fail and my reaction becomes just as ridiculous, yelling because we’re running late and threatening consequences. Those mornings are not a pretty sight. It’s no wonder I was exhausted on the first day of fourth grade.
By the time we get to school, it’s apparent he’s forgiven me for being the worst mom in the world for sending him to school. With a hug and kiss, he’s off to the playground.
On this particular second day of school, we promise to talk about what changes we can make later that evening.
After dinner, we came up with a list of ideas for how to change up our morning routine. We came up with a bunch of suggestions that were super wacky—like ice cream sundaes, drinking coffee and pillow fights—along with some that were more reasonable—eating breakfast together, reading together and going for a walk. Every single idea, no matter how ridiculous, was added to the list.
After we ran out of ideas, we went back through each one, discussed what we liked and didn’t like, renegotiated some of them and came up with a great plan. For things like playing video games and eating sugar, I drew a hard line, and he seemed to have no problem with this. Many of his other ideas made the cut, like coffee for instance. He wanted me to deliver a mug of coffee to him each morning (I don’t even drink coffee…); instead, we’re going to go out for coffee once a month before school. A few minutes of pillow fighting…why not?
As we crossed ideas out and circled others, I heard him sing a little line about how our mornings would now be filled with magic.
WHAAAT?!? This kid had been rage filled. To the point where I felt this school struggle was never going to end without drastic measures. Was it really this easy to help him feel delightful and peaceful?!
We decided to spend a minute each night deciding what our next morning would look like together based on our list. We’ll both need to wake up earlier, but it’s definitely doable.
Then I asked him, “On the mornings where you don’t want to wake up, what advice do you have for me?” His response was even more magical than his song. “Are you kidding? That will never be a problem if we stick to this plan!”
After we said good night, I laid with a stretchy little gray ball snug against my psoas muscle to soothe my achy back (thanks Essence Physical Therapy!). That 20 minutes of doing nothing allowed for the experience to marinate and pop out one more essential thought. What’s at the root of this school issue? He always comes home happy… Perhaps it’s not school he hates. Maybe it’s our separation.
All the ideas he loved were the ones that included the word TOGETHER. He’s told me before he wants nothing more than attention from me. Sometimes he’s sad when he knows the next day is Dad day, even if he’s been looking forward to it.
So I posed the question to him, “Could it be that it’s not school you hate, but possibly leaving me that you hate?”
He nodded in agreement, “Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”
Aha! It makes so much sense. But could he have come to that conclusion on his own? Probably not. Most of the time, we adults can’t draw those conclusions for ourselves very easily either. At least, not without some introspective analysis or another person listening without bias.
Why do I feel exhausted? What in my life feels exhausting?
Why do I hate going to this place? What needs to happen to go there or to be there?
Then, what changes can I make?
When you begin to ask the deeper questions rather than simply take things for face value, the healing begins, whether it’s your health, relationships, or stressful, chaotic mornings.
Follow up: We are now going into week six of back to school and every single morning has been filled with ease and happiness.
*This list idea was inspired from the book How to Listen so Kids will Talk and Talk so Kids will Listen.
About: Kara McNabb is a naturopathic practitioner who focuses on the mind-body connection and uses a variety of modalities and remedies to assist in wellness. She works with adults and children.