Lights. Camera. Action.
My son’s preschool teacher is behind the lens, her voice dipping and trilling like a delicate bird. I love this woman. In fact, I sometimes call her Ms. Awesome. She has taught both of my toddlers how to count, how to skip, how to see every twig and pinecone as a miracle. My son loves to collect dried leaves for her on the walk to school. She has jars of his artifacts on every shelf of the classroom. I’m trying not to cry at his graduation ceremony.
Ms. Awesome has put together a series of interviews with the three- and four-year olds, entitled What Makes You Happy?
“Eating ice cream!” chirps the first kid on screen.
“Ooooh yum, what kind?” asks Ms. Awesome.
“Where do you get your ice cream?”
“From a cow!”
All the parents giggle. Next up – my kid. He leans into my knee and I kiss him on top of the head. I adore him so much. His smile on the screen is wide and toothy.
“What makes you happy?” prompts Ms. Awesome.
He bats his eyelashes slowly and answers, “When my mommy and daddy don’t yell at me.”
Shame, hurt, anger and deep guilt sock me in the chest.
Hahahahahaha! I force a laugh out loudly. I kiss him again on top of the head.
My husband and I work so hard to keep an even tone at home. To give all three of our kids time to be wild and dance and howl. Really?! Was this all my kid could say about us?
The rest of the video was full of kids crooning about their mama’s cuddles, toys, trips to the zoo. More references to cuddles. Oh yeah, and at one point, the computer froze and Ms. Awesome started the video over from the beginning.
I didn’t want to call her Ms. Awesome so much after that.
When the credits rolled, I told my son that he could grab some ice cream and pop chips and we had to roll. I made it to my daughter’s school kindergarten playground before bursting into tears.
“What’s wrong?” she asked fearfully.
“Do you guys think Dad and I yell at you?”
“Sometimes…I mean, when there’s something we shouldn’t do.”
“Do you know we just want you to be safe and happy and healthy?”
My son came over then and added, “Let’s be Anna and Elsa now!” (The characters from the movie, Frozen).
My daughter answered, “I’m already being Elsa. I have been all day.”
I know I should let this episode go just as quickly as they have. I also know my husband and I are pretty darn patient and loving with our kids. We do not yell a lot. If someone’s near a hot stove or edging too close to the street. In moments of sheer uncontrollable frustration, sure. I don’t think my kids feel scared of us in any way.
I feel an ache though. So deep and gnarled. This is the last week I’ll see many of those preschool families. I’m pretty certain it’ll be the last time I see Ms. Awesome (unless our baby goes in two years). I’ve known and grown with this community through births, deaths, lice outbreaks and a heart attack. It’s self-centered, I know, but I can’t help wanting to remake that video. I can’t help thinking about how these families must see me now. It’s the hardest kind of goodbye. Where I can’t look anyone in the eye as I gather up his art projects and steer his scooter quickly through the crowd.
I have no choice, really. Maybe if I dress up like Elsa, it’ll sting less. I’ll try to watch how I raise my voice and listen to more Buddhist podcasts while I breathe. And like every confusing step of motherhood, I have to throw away my ego, put on another temporary tattoo, and move on.