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The Comfort of Small Things

I have been having kindergarten nightmares.

I know I’m supposed to leave those types of dreams to the kids and instead have more adult-themed nightmares.  You know, like how they get to be chased by furry monsters in their nightmares and I get to be chased by axe-murderers in my nightmares.  Grown-up nightmares about grown-up things.

The dreams can best be described as “rage against the machine” with the machine being everyone who works for the school system.  In my dreams, I have huge, obscenity-filled tantrums on the twins’ behalf.  I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept.

None of our fears have come true — their friend is in their class, their teacher seems wonderful, I even have a volunteer position at the school.  And yet, I have been having these awful, exhausting nightmares.

I sound like a really fun person to live with.

We have been preparing by reading Ramona the Pest.  And discussing Ramona the Pest; namely, please oh please do not hide behind garbage cans if you’re scared.  I did this once in first grade when I was embarrassed because my teacher asked me to stand outside the classroom door for talking during class.  Instead, I ran to the all-purpose room and hid backstage underneath a table, squeezed behind bags stuffed with props for the school show.  I could hear the principal searching for me, hear my sister calling my name after they got her out of class.  I hid until they found me.  I really don’t want the twins to do that.  I am a big fan of people knowing where they are at all times.


We spent six hours last week searching for the perfect backpack.  I thought it would be the Wolvog who would become a deer in headlights over the choice; after all, I spent 45 minutes with him looking at backpacks online before we headed out to the store.  I kept reminding him that this was a low-stakes decision.

In the first store, he picked out a Star Wars ensemble and was done.  The ChickieNob couldn’t find anything that matched the backpack of her dreams, which wasn’t a problem because there were many other stores to check.  So we drove all over the Washington metropolitan area, searching for a glitter-free Disney princess backpack that fit the mental image she held of the Perfect Backpack, the one that would shlep her crap to school and home in an almost ethereal manner.

We started the trip at 11 am and sometime after 5 pm, my daughter stood in front of what needed to be the final backpack display of the evening and her lip started shaking and her eyes filled with tears.  She managed to choke out, “I just want to be excited about my backpack and have it perfect for kindergarten!” and then sat down on the floor so we could rock and cry with her in my lap while the Wolvog patiently examined a display of Lego products.

It really wasn’t about the backpack.

I helped her come to a decision, and the moment we started walking toward the cash register — the deal done — there was a lightness to her face.  She just needed to have that tangible object to cling to in order to get through the door of the school since we can’t actually hold happy thoughts.


The week prior to the Great Backpack Ordeal of 2010, Josh decided that he wanted a sweatshirt while we were on holiday in Chincoteague.  He wanted it to say the name of the place so he could think about this vacation spot once we were back home.

Absolutely understood where he was coming from and walked to the first sweatshirt shop with him.  And then the second and third and fourth and beyond, each of them holding sweatshirts, but none of them holding THE sweatshirt, the one he needed to go home with in order to feel settled.  In order to have a tangible reminder of our frequent vacation spot.

He didn’t sit down on the floor and cry, but did morosely pause to get ice cream during the quest, stating that none of his options were exciting him.  We had a long talk at the ice cream shop, and in the end, before we left, decided to purchase two ice cream store sweatshirts.  They were suddenly THE sweatshirt, even though they hadn’t been contenders when we first started weaving in and out of stores during our walk.  We cranked up the air conditioning in the hotel room so we could wear them while we read.

Why did I indulge all of this — the trip into the ninth circle of backpack hell?  It’s sweatshirt counterpart?

Because it’s a low-stakes way of dealing with the anxiety of the unknown by trying to control the tangible world.  To find the perfect backpack, the perfect sweatshirt.  If we can match those dream images inside our minds, surely we can have control over our nightmares, create a happy experience where the twins have a wonderful time at school, and Josh and I have peace of heart over the idea of the twins starting out their academic career.

Back at Disney World this summer, the ChickieNob and I purchased matching necklaces.  We decided we would kiss each other’s necklace and then wear them throughout the day while we’re apart, and if we missed one another, we could touch our necklace and feel close to the other person.

It’s the comfort of small things.  The perfect backpack.  The cozy sweatshirt.  The necklace that you try to fill with all the intangible emotions; the enormous love.  It’s the difference between what you can see or hold and what only exists in your head.  It’s the difference between what you know and what you understand in your blood and bones.


1 DeterminedDory { 08.30.10 at 3:41 pm }

On the day that my husband and I received his azoospermia diagnosis, I pulled my old childhood teddy bear out of the closet to hold while I tried to cry alone so Bobby wouldn’t know how devastated I was. I’ve slept with him every night since, just like when I was a kid. He makes me feel not alone when Bobby is out working the night shift and I’m in bed all by myself with my thoughts and fears. I’ve also held the bear through every injection I took for IVF and cried into him when the shots hurt too much. It’s amazing how much comfort just one tangible object can bring.

2 a { 08.30.10 at 4:07 pm }

Well, at least the Chickienob comes by it honestly. You are most indulgent – I would have gone to maybe 3 stores and called it a day. Because a 6 hour trip to find a backpack…means I’d be seeing the same 30 backpacks over and over and over.

You guys must be a very close-knit family. That’s very sweet.

3 tara { 08.30.10 at 4:50 pm }

i wish i could figure out what tangible object to focus upon so that i could stop stressing about the current list of big deals (moving, selling or renting our current house, sabbatical proposal, two new courses, expecting a baby in the middle of a semester, crappy family leave, losing my best friend to a 2 yr overseas gig, etc.). it was extremely satisfying to spend several days trying to find black or red polo shirts for daycare uniforms but now that this is done… I’m stuck with the rest of it.
love the post- it’s perfect.

4 Quiet Dreams { 08.30.10 at 5:42 pm }

Last Sunday night, before my 12 year old niece’s 1st day of school, I talked to her on the phone. She brushed over very quickly her bipolar mother’s latest shenanigans, and instead would not stop talking about how hard 7th grade math was going to be and how she didn’t think she’d be able to do it. She also was able to acknowledge to me that it wasn’t really about the math.

It wasn’t something tangible, but this seems to be in the same vein.

5 jodifur { 08.30.10 at 6:45 pm }

Oh, it’s not just you. Finding Michael’s backpack was a nightmare, partly because of my silly rules, no guns but he wanted Star Wars, and it has to roll because we are walkers, and it just became impossible. And also, because Kindergarten is just that big of deal.
I’ve been thinking about you today and sending you good thoughts through the interwebs.

6 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.30.10 at 7:53 pm }

After all that, the day will come when Wolvog thinks that backpack is embarrassing and babyish. But it will always mean something to you.

7 Soosee { 08.31.10 at 8:55 am }

Oh, how we need those tangible things sometimes, and even though now as adults we “get” (after the fact) that it’s representation to what we feel or have in our minds, we still want to hold on to it. And I think it’s great when we find that one thing – it helps! Hope the nightmares stop soon, my buddy! xo

8 loribeth { 08.31.10 at 9:55 am }

I find it funny that Josh was agonizing over the perfect souvenir sweatshirt. Here I thought this was a girl thing. How many times have I stood in front of the closet, agonizing over the perfect outfit to wear for the first day of school/school dance/wedding or shower or birthday party where I’ll be seeing all of dh’s relatives, etc.? Because if I’m wearing the perfect outfit & looking my best, all the rest will fall into place — I will be beautiful & popular & witty & charming & sought after. Right?

Dh doesn’t get it. He just grabs for the first thing in the closet that catches his eye. Done. (At least until I see it & make him put on something else, lol.)

Glad ChickieNob finally found her dream backpack. Or at least one that was close enough.

9 Tara { 08.31.10 at 10:25 am }

When I was in kindergarten, I too was sent into the hall for talking…however, that didn’t make sense to me so I left & walked home…the teachers & principal were relieved when my Dad walked me back into the school…from then on, when I was in trouble for talking, I had to stand at the teacher’s desk 😉

10 Kristen { 08.31.10 at 10:49 am }

I love that you and ChickieNob have necklaces! I send my son to school w/a red string in his pocket so that any time he misses me, he can touch it and remember that I’m thinking of him and will see him after class. Little kids are so concrete in their thinking I think its really helpful for them to have a tangible reminder of you while your apart.

I hope the school year is a good one and soon you all settle in and your nightmares end.

11 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 08.31.10 at 12:21 pm }

Great post. I’ve been reading these latest posts about your twins starting kindergarten, and misting up, thinking how quickly time passes, how before I know it, these two will be off to school themselves. Sigh.

I’m always so glad for those little physical reminders…

12 Kir { 08.31.10 at 12:46 pm }

both of these stories are hitting me today, I am currently writing a post about the boys moving to the young Preschool room and how it’s not the move that’s crushing me, it’s them having to stop doing something (won’t spoil it) and how my OCD and my heart is just saying “they are growing up too fast” ….but yes , I get it, the things that make you feel SAFE and COMFORTED and HOME…

I’m glad that both kiddos got what they needed (and Josh too) to make them feel like it’s “all going to be ok”

HUGS my friend 🙂

13 Busted Kate { 08.31.10 at 5:53 pm }

Oh I love that about the necklaces! I’ll have to remember that for the future 🙂

Great post–I can’t believe they are starting kindergarten!

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