Ah, August. The month of the year when back-to-school ads are out in abundance. As a kid, I remember this month being an anxiety producing one. I hated the month. For me, it meant that soon I would once again be forced from my mom’s loving and protective arms, and thrown back into the slimy claws of my bullies.
June was wonderful. School was ending, and I knew I would be home to play in my make-believe world and stay up all night if I wanted. I would do that often as a child. I’d stay up all night long and loved it! As the summer pressed on into July, I was still content, as I knew I had quite a bit of time left of my glorious vacation. But, then, it would always happen. Inevitably, the first Sunday of August would arrive, and with it, a flurry of back-to-school ads in the newspaper. Full-colored ads of kids looking disgustingly happy and excited to be heading back to a place that I dreaded throughout my grade school years.
Elmer’s Glue… What?
It was upon lying first sight on those ads, that what I now know to be anxiety began to take over my body. I knew that soon I would be going to be measured for my new uniform (I went to a private Catholic school grades 1-12). And, I knew that my mom, dad and I would be making our annual trek to the store to purchase all of my school supplies. That memory is still so ingrained in my mind, that whenever I come across a bottle of Elmer’s Glue in our house, I have flashbacks to those shopping trips. I always had a long list of supplies that were needed, but the glue… something about that glue has never left my mind. It had that smell, the texture, and feeling of when that bottle was in my hand. It’s sort of strange, really, ‘cause I’m not sure why of all the supplies I had, that the glue would stick (pun intended) in my mind.
Maybe it’s due to it being such a special staple of school supplies. I mean, paper, notebooks, pens, pencils, and folders, are all common supplies (at least here in the States), but they’re used for every subject. Glue, on the other hand, is a school supply that was used for only some circumstances. It was used for art class and trying to get those stubborn macaroni pieces to stick, or for cutting out pictures of people and places for social studies class. Or, most importantly of all, it was used to make hand masks. All of us kids would pour it all over our palms and wait until it dried a bit, then pull it off to see a perfect imprint of our palms. I’m sure parents will love me for sharing that lovely tip with their kids. But, that was glue. It was only used for those special occasions. So, when I see glue to this day, it reminds me of school more strongly than any other supply. And, it takes me back to the days of buying it in August most often.
I can still feel the sadness that would start to overcome me, as August came to a close. I could feel my energy being drained from me, and I would enjoy less and less as that final week of vacation arrived. I would become more emotional, and spontaneous crying was a given during this time. As I stated in my post Separation Anxiety and Bipolar in Kids, I suffered from severe separation anxiety as a child. I would cry as if I was grieving, and it was a draining experience.
School registration was horrible. It would take place in September, shortly after Labor Day. Starting around 6th grade or so, our school changed how it did registration, and made it occur during the middle of summer vacation. But, up until that year, registration took place on the first day of school. Being a private school, they already knew the kids who were going to be there due to the tuition being paid, but the registration was for the parents to fill out important forms and such. Most of the kids left the room as the parents were filling out the forms. They were happy to be back at school and they were looking forward to playing with their friends. Not me, though. I would stay by my mom’s side for as long as possible. I didn’t want that time to end, and it would hurt me to think ahead another twenty minutes, when I knew I’d be forced to leave her.
I remember a few other kids in the room with their moms. They seemed to be feeling as I did. And, then, the bell would ring. It was time for me to go to my new classroom, and my mom had to stay where she was. You would think I’d be used to that separation by now, but that’s the problem with a child who suffers from separation anxiety… it’s just not that easy. I would cry and hug her as hard as I could. She would comfort me with her assurances that I would see her soon, and that I was going to feel better once the day got underway. Letting go was a difficult challenge, but I would always get the strength to eventually do so. And, it helped that I had that Kleenex!
Oh, did I forget to mention that? You see my mom always has Kleenex in her pocket, due to allergies. And, back then it wasn’t any different. As I would cry in her arms, not wanting to let her go, she’d give me a tissue to dry my tears. Well, that tissue would stay with me for the rest of the day. Why? Simple. It had her scent on it. The tissue would smell like my mom, a pretty scent of ‘mama’ that I never wanted to let go. So, I would dry my tears with it, then go off to class, and I’d keep that used, tear-soaked tissue in my pocket. And, I’d pull it out throughout the day, to smell it, so I could smell my mom’s scent. It made me feel like she was with me. I can’t recall how she found out – if I told her, or if she just guessed – but eventually my mom knew what the tissue meant to me. And, everyday, she’d give me a new tissue to carry with me… her scent and all.
It’s funny what can soothe a child, and what can also cause pain in adulthood. A few years back, when my mom was in the hospital for a week following a surgery, I was staying there every night with her. I didn’t want to be away from her for that long. It was the same as a child, when I had to leave for school. And, when she had surgeries when I was little. The surgeries were especially difficult. I wasn’t just taken away from her during those times, but I was also taken from my dad and home. I had to stay with my older sister, brother-in-law and nephew. I couldn’t stay at home with my dad, ‘cause he didn’t feel he could handle a little girl alone. My sister took very good care of me, but no one can substitute for Mom (I know she’d agree with that). It was hard for me to be away from my mom, and away from home too. I wasn’t allowed to visit her either, because my mom knew it would only upset me to see her, and then have to leave again. She felt it was best that I just did not see her until she returned home. So, that meant twice as a child, I was away from mom, dad, and home, for one week for the first surgery, and almost two weeks for the second. For a child with separation anxiety, that is an unimaginable amount of time. I had to continue going to school during the second surgery (the first one took place during the summer), and that made the time go a little faster, but it was never fast enough.
The Burnt Pizza
My dad has never been much of an indoor cook. He can Barbeque, but he hasn’t done that in years. But, cooking on the stove is something he usually leaves to my mom. Well, one day during my mom’s second surgery, he picked me up from school to take me home for a little bit, so I could be at the house for a while. My sister was set to pick me up afterward. So, we stopped at the market on the way home, and my dad picked up a large frozen pizza to make for our dinner. I’m actually crying as I write this ‘cause it’s such a touching memory for me. My dad, who doesn’t know how to cook much on the stove, put the pizza in the oven, and well… he left it in there a bit too long. He took it out and it was a tad black on the bottom. It was still edible, though. I still remember his face when he pulled it out. He looked disappointed, but I still ate it.
That is a touching memory that I have, but nothing will beat what happened next, that same day. I was sitting in my bedroom. Prior to leaving for the hospital, my mom had set up a rack in my room with fresh clothes for my dad, uncle who lives with us, and one of my older brothers who still lived at home at the time. All three were adult men, and that’s why both she and my dad thought it was best for me to be with my sister, since as a little girl, I was still very dependent on my mom. So, back to the clothes. My mom wanted to make sure that they had all of the clothes that they needed while she was gone. I remember sitting on my bed that day staring at the rack of clothes, and my dad was in the kitchen with the pizza. As I stared at the clothes, I started to cry. I was trying not to be loud, as to not let my dad hear. My mom was the only person I was ever comfortable crying around, although my tears wouldn’t always restrain themselves in all other instances, including this one. My cries soon turned to sobs, which could no longer be muffled. It was then, that my dad walked into my bedroom. He sat next to me on the bed and put his arm tightly around me, hugging and telling me that, “Mom will be home soon, don’t worry.” He kept hugging me and my tears kept coming. I wanted to stay home so badly, but I couldn’t.
Later that week, my dad went over to my sister’s house for some home-cooked dinner. When it was time for him to leave, I began crying again. He thought that I was crying for my mom. That day in my bedroom, it was for my mom, but that night after dinner, it was for him. I wanted to go home with him. I missed him. He didn’t know that, though. My sobs were too strong for me to talk through them, so I couldn’t let him know that. So, he left that night thinking that I was crying for my mom, when in reality the tears were for him. Those memories have always been extremely emotional for me (still are), so it wasn’t until last year that I was finally able to tell my dad that I was really crying for him that day. It felt good to finally let him know. It touched him too.
Back, to the Past
So, back to three years ago, I could not let my mom stay in a hospital alone. For one, I was worried about her being alone. It was an excellent hospital, but it didn’t have to do with that. It was that I would worry about her no matter where she was located. And, secondly, I didn’t want to be at the house without her. I went through that as a child, when I had no choice but to listen to the adults telling me what to do. They did what they felt was best for me, and I don’t doubt that it was best for me. But, now I was an adult, and I was going to make the choice to be with my mom.
For the week that she was in the hospital, I spent each night with her, and most of the days. Then, I would go home for a few hours everyday to wash dishes and clothes, shower, make my uncle’s lunch for the next day, and my dad’s lunch and coffee for the next day as well. I’d make sure all was set for them, and then go back to the hospital with my mom all night. The recliner that I slept on left much to be desired, though. Two recliners were present in the room with her, but the really comfortable one was in the way of the nurse when she’d come in to check on my mom in the middle of the night. So, I just slept on the other one that might have once had padding back during World War II.
Everyone knew this. Everyone in my family knew that this was what I was doing, but there was one thing that they did not know. Each day when I’d go back home, I’d peak into my mom and dad’s room and start crying. I remember lying down on their bed once, and just sobbed like a baby. I’d see the empty room, and know that my mom wasn’t there. I’d go up to her sweater that she always wore, and just like when I was a little kid holding that Kleenex, I’d smell her sweater to get that scent. I knew she was getting better in the hospital (and today, she is doing much better), but at this point she had a lot of complications that made a lot of things, such as her ever walking again, up in the air. It was a stressful time. That bedroom, and her sweater, was a symbol of what life had been before she got sick. Now, everything was different, and she wasn’t home. She wasn’t able to lie in her own bed, which I knew she wanted to do so badly. She wasn’t able to be home with us. It was hard.
August… Oh, August
So, you can now see what August does to me still. As a child, it was a depressing time for me as school came closer. My mom’s first surgery took place in August. The second and most recent one did not, but their memories come back with this month. I guess August has become a time for reflection on all of those things. As each new ad comes on TV with kids dancing around in new clothes, and happily heading off to school, I think back to a time when I did not feel that way. And, even more sadly… I imagine the kids who, today, are in that same emotional place. They don’t want to go back to school. Maybe it’s fear or sadness, or maybe it’s getting back to routine. Either way, it’s a change to which some kids are not looking forward.
Change… that is something that never comes easy, at least for me. I know it’s also not coming easy for Alice. I’ve mentioned her before in my post Innocent Heart. She’s my little cousin (my cousin’s daughter), and she’s entering first grade this year. She’s nervous. She feels good about it, then the nerves come back again. When I was talking with her a while back, she was telling me how she misses her friends from Kindergarten who aren’t going to be in her class anymore. They’re going to different schools. She was expressing to me her fears, and she became teary eyed when talking about going to school and not knowing if she’ll recognize anyone, or if she’ll make new friends. I tried to comfort her in the best way I knew how, and I tried my best to remember what I felt like at that age. The memories are strong, so I was able to ease her fears a little that day. However, I know first hand, that it doesn’t matter what anyone says to you. You will only be at ease, when you are in that place and feel it inside. No one can really say a magic word to make you feel perfectly fine. Anxiety comes from within, and it’s up to what we feel inside that will either put it at ease or not. So, as she comes closer to her first day, I am thinking about her a lot. I thought I was past those back-to-school emotions. However, she’s afraid of the change that’s coming, and, unexpectedly, I am feeling anxious for her.
When I think about it, I guess that’s what August represents for myself. August equates to change. Whether you’re heading back to school in August, or preparing to, it’s all a brand new experience coming. Summer is coming closer to an end, and that means fall, and soon the holidays, will once again be upon us. That time of year is returning.
As an adult, I now cannot wait for the summer to come to an end, due to my serious loathing of the heat. But, I also think about those kids – and especially Alice – with separation anxieties that are aching as the summer comes closer to its end. They want the summer to last a little bit longer. For them, I guess I can put up with a little longer summer.
I know I would have appreciated that when I was a kid.
Here’s to a classic!