Closing in on the one-week mark of back to school and I thought by now I’d be on easy street. Everyone settled into new routines, lunches miraculously packing themselves, happy little faces bursting through the door at the end of the day, eager to see long-lost Mom and tell her every single detail of their thrilling educational voyage. Instead I seem to have sent my precious, happy-go-lucky, life-loving little daughter into the elementary school system and been given back one of the most fearsome members of a beastly sect known as the Screeching After-School Meltdown Tribe.
Sociologists are unsure of the tribe’s origins but have traced them to every continent. Their culture is mysterious and their exact numbers unknown, but communal traits can be found despite dramatic differences in language, dress, and snack food preferences. All Screech-Melts have been shown to exhibit:
- pronounced peevishness upon school dismissal
- irrational behavior, including foot stomping, backpack throwing, and refusal to follow simple commands such as “Get in the car NOW!”
- inability to use polite language to make requests or answer questions
- unwillingness to agree to any arrangements meant for their own comfort or enjoyment
- prolonged bouts of crying, punctuated by high-volume declarations of parental hatred
My older child never morphed into a Screech-Melt. Or, if he did, I now have blissful amnesia of it and remember him only as a perfect, happy boy who came home cheerful and energized from his school day. (And I wasn’t blogging then so there is no cyber evidence to dispute that lovely fantasy. Hooray!)
My daughter is another story. I know she’s tired. It’s a big adjustment. It’s exhausting to work hard at being on good behavior all day and once school’s out, they just have to let loose. I do understand all that. But I can’t help wondering why her transition is following the Screech-Melt formula when it’s so far off from her usual cranky but not psychotic response to being wiped out or overwhelmed.
In pondering this mystery, I think through the way she geared herself up for kindergarten. She happily, and with single-minded determination, chose all her new school clothes at the store. She carefully considered the pink backpack options I offered her online and insisted on the fancy lettering for her monogram. She announced that she would be taking the bus the first day and that maybe I could drive her the second day. When she did hop on the bus for the first time, she rushed up the stairs without even a backward glance at me. Clean, surgical slice to shed her little girl status, it seemed.
But then I appear at the end of her school day, waving at her across the gym while I wait in line to sign the pick-up sheet, racing to scoop her into my arms and kiss her soft cheeks, eagerly asking, “How was your day?” She responds warmly, at first, beaming up at me, breathlessly recounting some moment of excitement or interest. She practically skips down the hall, dashing toward the sunshine and fresh air of the playground.
But somewhere, somewhere along that short stretch, her tribal memory kicks in. The ancestral voices of the Screech-Melts must rise in her ears, reminding her that I am the enemy. That I have come to seize her independence and fold her back under my wing where she will stifle and wither. Within minutes of scrambling up the jungle gym, she is looking down on me, eyes beginning to grow fierce and self-protective. And then the tantrum commences, beginning with a sudden demand (“I want to go to Lauren’s house for a play date!”) that if refused (“Sorry, honey, she has soccer practice today.”) ignites a firestorm of recrimination, peaking in accusations (“You never let me do anything! You just want to interrupt my friendship!!!”) hurled between full-body sobs.
I try to remain calm, to ride out the storm. But it’s not easy, nor fun. Patient explanation and soothing tones quickly give way to gritted teeth and the tired old 1-2-3. We finally make it home, with both of us stomping up the porch steps, and I retreat to a neutral corner to wait for her return to sanity. I can only hope that her membership in the Screech-Melts is a limited-time offer … or that we can at least get a family discount, because a few more weeks of this and my after-school meltdowns are going to make hers look like child’s play.
This is an original JerseyMomsBlog post by Deanna Quinones.
Photo credit given to stock.xchng.