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News & Features » May 2020 » “Tears of Growth” by Monica Pollin

“Tears of Growth” by Monica Pollin

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, a new first grader has a tough transition.

Tears of Growth
by Monica Pollin
Six-year-old

The September he started first grade, my son cried every morning. The sobs would begin even before he got out of bed, accompanied by a litany of objections to the ordeal that awaited him: “I hate all-day school,” and “I want to go back to kindergarten,” and “With a full day, I miss you too much.” Eventually he would stop crying, only to begin again when it was time to leave.  

I am a social worker, my husband a school psychologist, but one is rarely objective in reference to one’s own child. My husband was fairly calm about this; I was more guilt-ridden. Why was Alex crying? The other children looked somewhat overwhelmed, but they weren’t crying.  

I was a part-time working mom since Alex, our only child, was born. He was used to having a sitter four days a week—Pat, a loving, generous woman who enjoyed sharing in the first 5 1/2 years of my son’s life. Going to first grade meant that Pat would no longer be our sitter. When Alex would cry “But Mom, I’ll miss you today,” I told him, “I know you’ll miss me, but you’re used to not seeing me until late afternoon. I think what you really miss is your old life.” (i.e. the short school days, the afternoons spent going to the park or relaxing at home with Mom or Pat). This reasoning worked wonders. Alex continued to cry each morning saying “But Mom, I miss my old life!”

The crying continued. There were calls from the school nurse, as Alex complained of various ills that might get him out of class. My maternal guilt soared. What did I do wrong? I knew other working mothers; their children weren’t crying. I had sent my son to nursery school. He loved it there, and had no problem separating from me.  

As the crying continued I did everything I could think of to help my son adjust to first grade. He was so calm and relaxed in the afternoon and evening that we tried to have rational discussions about school. We complimented his ability to read (he taught himself at age 4 1/2), trying to increase his self-esteem (which had never seemed low before). We promised rewards.  I sent a family picture to school in his backpack, as the mental image did not seem enough at that time. On a Saturday we met Pat for a bagel breakfast, as I reiterated to my son that his beloved sitter could still play a role in his life. And in the meantime, Alex never missed a day of school.  

One morning, as we got into the car for that dreaded ride to school, Alex looked at me and said, “Well Mom, you have to stop sometime.” I looked up and queried, “Stop what?” “Crying, Mom; you can’t cry forever!” Later, Alex told me how he had entered the classroom and began the morning routine without crying; his teacher had noted the change, commenting, “Very good Alex.” The crying didn’t end that day, but it was the beginning of the end, as slowly my son negotiated the process of adjusting to his new life.

Some months later I told Alex an anecdote about a friend’s 3 1/2 year old daughter.  While seated in the living room the child relaxed with her feet atop the coffee table. When asked to move her feet she replied. “It’s not me doing that Mom, it’s my feet.” My friend gently answered, “Well, please tell those feet to get off the coffee table or you’ll have to go inside.” Magically, the feet moved. Alex was amused by this story, but never mentioned it again.

Months later, long after the tears had stopped, I was putting my son to bed one night. Somehow, in the calm that characterizes these final moments of our day together, I have found that subjects can be discussed, and feelings expressed, that are almost ineffable when daylight strikes. The subject of the crying—now many months behind us—came up. Clearly, as part of his history, my son too struggled to understand it. He had a pensive look on his face as he reminded me, “Mom, remember the story about Brittany with her feet on the coffee table?” “Yes”, I said, wondering how this related to the crying. “Well”, Alex continued, “Those days when I cried my brain kept telling me to stop crying, that there’s nothing to be upset about. But my eyes kept crying.” I hugged him, my philosopher.

Some weeks after that discussion Alex agreed one afternoon to spend a few minutes cleaning out his backpack, that eclectic collection of toys, books and papers to which the Collier brothers could not hold a candle. He dumped out his wares and began sorting them, when he came to the two family pictures I had given him in his time of need. He handed them to me saying, “You can have these now Mom.  I don’t need them anymore.” I looked at the photos and my tears began.

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MONICA POLLIN is a retired social worker, who spent her career working with women, children and families in agency and private practice. She is now enjoying retirement, engaged in crafts, travel and volunteer work. She wrote “Tears of Growth” thirty years ago, when her now thirty-six year old son was six years of age. (He is now the father of an eight months old son, making her a grandmother.) In looking back upon this long ago chapter of her life, she hopes that people who are now parenting will realize that with time and support we overcome hurdles and grow from our experiences.

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Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: May 29, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,



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