Monki has not had a great track record when it comes to school attendance. She started her kindergarten* last year just before the pandemic closed everything down, briefly returned in the summer of 2020 until we chose to pull her out for a variety of reasons and our hope was that she’d be able to get into an actual preschool for the 21-22 school year.
The question had to do with her age. Normally, preschool is when you’re 6 and then you start first grade at 7 (although this is changing in the next few years to allow for starting a year earlier). Monki got into her school as a special case, then, having only turned 5 in July. This would make her the youngest in the group but that’s okay. We had faith all would be okay. In fact, she was very excited for what she called “bell school” (because there were bells to signify the changes in subject matter as opposed to the freeform activities of the kindergarten).
So come September first, we were ready! We’d bought new clothes for her, gotten the prerequisite flower for the teacher, put name tags on all the backpacks and school supplies… we were good to go.
That first day was an easy one. It was a Wednesday and the class only met for 45 minutes or so. The idea is that it’s a holiday to get to meet the teacher and then off you go with your family to celebrate the new school year. There is not a table to be had in all the restaurants in town on the afternoon of the first.
Come the second, though, things got real. This was a full day of four hours and, well, our Miss Monki didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. She still has a bit of an issue with being away from mommy, and really, I don’t blame her. For her entire life, and especially the past 18 months or so, mommy has never been far away. Those times when Rasa was supposed to go to conferences or internships, she was able to do it all online. This way, at most, she was in the office for a few hours at a time or, better yet, she was sitting on the couch with Monki able to sit right next to her.
So now at school, she doesn’t have mommy there and it’s hard for her. Interestingly, Monki is incredibly self-aware and knows she needs to get better at this part of things. She’ll tell you straight up that she’s trying to get better and not cry, “but it’s hard.” A+ for effort, though.
She muddled through that first week, at least the last two days of that first week as well as she could. It was made a bit easier by the fact that Rasa and I were able to walk up with her to help her with her coat and changing her shoes. By the time the next week rolled around, things were starting to maybe get a little better. We had provided some tools to help her out, exercises to work on the stress. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and we were still able to go up with her to help ease the transition. But on Thursday, we were met at the door by the school counselor, who told us that as of the following day, parents wouldn’t be allowed in the building by order of the Headmistress. We tried to explain that we had a special circumstance, and even Monki’s teacher interceded on our behalf, but the answer was that due to COVID, no parents allowed**. Of course, this conversation happened in front of Monki, so come Friday morning, the kiddo was so stressed about having to go up the stairs herself, she made herself physically ill.
No school for her.
Over the weekend, she ended up catching a cold and so was out the entire following week as she recovered. During that week, though, we heard all about her friends and how much she enjoyed school. Academically, she was great. She loved doing the homework and learning and even the social aspect was helping, but there was still the separation anxiety. After a week away though, Monday the 20th was picture day and Monki was very excited about going. We took her in and the teacher came down to get her, knowing that as the youngest in the class, she needed a little bit of extra help. There were tears, of course, but the pictures happened and were very exciting. On Tuesday, Rasa had a meeting, so I took Monki to school. As I arrived with her, someone was standing outside the door and I was informed by some of the other parents that on Monday afternoon, Monki’s teacher had tested positive for COVID, sending the entire class into a two-week lockdown, where they would be having 40-minute online classes every day.
Monki loved this! It was the best of both worlds: she could go to school and have mommy right there with her. By the time we were back in the classroom, it was already October. A month had past and Monki had been to school a grand total of 7 days. Also, with the resumption of school there was a change in teachers. The old teacher had decided (there are many conflicting stories as to the whys of the situation) to end her employment. So now we had a new teacher and were two weeks behind the curve for getting Monki used to going to school by herself.
No problem, we could do this.
During this week, though, we got an email from the mother of the little girl who had become Monki’s “best friend,” a de facto big sister who would take care of Monki, help her with her clothes and generally look after her in class. Turns out, this little girl was turning 6 and her mom wanted to invite Monki to the birthday party.
To say Monki was excited does a supreme disservice to the word. It was all she would talk about, how we had to go get a present and how much fun it would be. This was the first birthday party of a friend she’d ever been invited to. We were thrilled as well. The rest of the week was fine, there were some tears, but we had hopes it was getting better. Naturally, though, on Friday we kept her out of school so we could all go and get flu shots (always safe, that’s us). Again, another incomplete week for her at school though.
Not to worry, the following week would be fine. The birthday party was on Friday, a nice reward for a hopefully good week at school. Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday were good. When Rasa would go to pick Monki up, she would see that our little girl was certainly well liked and looked after by most of the other kids in class. Yes, she was still crying, but most of her classmates were on her side and always there to comfort and help her***.
Wednesday night, though, the cold was back. There would be no school on Thursday for sure, still no complete school week since the start of the year, but I was still holding out hope for a Friday recovery. Because Friday was the birthday party. The one she was so excited about attending. Truth to tell, I was also excited about attending. One of the cultural differences here is that making friends is not done the way I would think of it being done – rather than noting that Monki had a friend and finding out the friend’s number and arranging a playdate, everyone pretty much keeps to themselves. We’ve got other kids in the building and whenever I suggest we go and introduce ourselves, I’m gently admonished that that is not how things are done here. I’ve also learned not to encourage Monki to try and make friends on the playground at the park because whenever she does walk up to another kid and say “hello” invariably the kid turns and walks away. She tries so hard, my kid, but you can see the defeat in her face every time and then I have to try and answer the question “why don’t they want to play with me?” The upshot is that when she does meet a friendly kid, they’ll play for a half hour or so and then each will go their own way and all the way home, I’ll hear stories regaling those 30 minutes with her “best friend.”
With Friday and the party approaching, I was thinking not only would this be a great chance for Monki to play with her new school friends and be part of a social circle, Rasa and I would get to meet the parents outside of the 30 seconds we exchange nods when dropping the kids off in the morning. It would be an opportunity to help our kiddo develop some social skills.
Alas, on Thursday the birthday girl’s mother sent a message to Rasa. She knew that Monki hadn’t been in school and was asking after her. We had to make a decision about attending and Rasa asked me what I thought.
I had a rather interesting reaction to that question: I started crying. I told Rasa I couldn’t make the call. I hated the fact that, through no fault of her own, Monki was going to miss this party she had so been looking forward to and was still talking about. She had her day planned out for Friday (which is today as I’m writing this) that she would stay home from school so she could get better and then the party was in the afternoon. I literally couldn’t tell her. This morning, Rasa had to explain to her that since she was still sick, she couldn’t go to the party but that we would arrange a time when she and the little girl could get together so she could still give her the presents and they could play.
She handled it better than I did.
I know there will be more parties for her. I know there will be more opportunities for all the things I talked about, but this was the first one and it really sucks that she couldn’t participate. I just want what’s best for her, I want her to thrive and succeed and to be happy. And I hate the fact that I couldn’t fix this for her. I was talking to a friend this evening who gave me some fatherly advice. He said “when you’re raising a kid, everything is the apocalypse. But the good thing is that the apocalypses don’t last long, just make sure you get past them quickly, otherwise you won’t be ready for the next, which is coming along soon.”
So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to get past it by writing about it. I’m trying to understand where this emotion comes from and to deal with it so that I’m ready when the next apocalypse shows up.
But that kid, she just cannot catch a break.
* “Kindergarten” is what we in America would call “preschool” while “preschool” here is what we would call “kindergarten.” I’ll be using the Lithuanian terms.
** Let’s just ignore the fact that the school breaks all sorts of other governmental COVID regulations and keeping parents out isn’t even a national rule. Hypocrisy at its finest.
*** yes, there are a few bullies, who make fun of her and tease her about all sorts of things but we do our best to mitigate things and keep her positive.