Who Knew a Bedtime Story Could F%@k You Up?

My 4 1/2 year old son started school last week. He is in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) which is a year of publicly funded Pre-K offered at public schools for children who will turn 5 during the school year. Though it's not even quite kindergarten yet, I consider this the official start of school seeing as he has to be there every day, will be doing everything in a classroom environment on a public school campus, and will attend an after school program at least a few days per week.

I'd known the day was coming for at least 3 years, but ramping up to it in the weeks preceding still filled me with emotion--equal parts anxiety and pride (which pretty much describes the make up of my emotional state during every transition my child works his way through).

The first time I teared up was when I put his TMNT backpack in the shopping cart at Target. I stopped to take a picture of the moment and send it to my mom. When it came to crying at the realization that your baby is growing up, I knew she'd understand.

Then I was fine until the morning of his first day. I lay his first day of school outfit on his bed just before I roused him and teared at the thought: the day has arrived.

Then I teared up again as I held his hand and we approached the school. Seeing all the other parents there arriving with their own children finally drove the point home.

But while these were all moments of excitement and a little bit of sadness, I worked through them pretty easily. Things were moving quickly. You can't just stand there and cry in front of a room full of 4-year-olds who look terrified as it is. You suck it up and move on. Anyway there was work and the everyday moving forward of life to contend with. These emotional moments were fleeting.

What I didn't realize, however, was that something was continuing to brew throughout. And what shocked the hell of me was that it would take a children's picture book to bring it to the surface.

After I picked my son up from school that first day we stopped by the library. Nothing special about that; we do it all the time. While I quickly preview books before we choose them (making sure they're not too long or too short or have shitty illustrations that would irritate me), I never read them through. It's a surprise every time when we get to them in the evenings and I learn what the actual story line is.

So I wasn't prepared for the dark horse that lie within Imagine Harry, a book my son chose and which I hadn't even remembered making into our library bag. It was Wednesday evening, three days into the School Experiment when it made it into the rotation.

Imagine Harry seems innocuous enough. Indeed it starts innocuously enough. Little Rabbit has an imaginary friend named Harry with whom he goes everywhere and does everything. Nothing crazy. Neither my son nor I were identifying much with it. Neither of us have ever had an imaginary friend. For the first 2/3 of the book it was simply another tale told with accompanying illustrations.

And then this...

Little Rabbit starts school. Things are changing in his house and in his relationship with the imaginary Harry.

After Little Rabbit has been in school for a while, Harry begins to hang back in the classroom when the kids go out to recess. Harry insists he doesn't need a snack. His needs are diminishing. He begins to fade into the background. (Dear Lord I am tearing up as I type this!!!)

And then one day, during a particularly fun music class,
Harry whispered softly in Little Rabbit's ear,
"I'm tired. I think I'll go take a nap."
"Okay Harry," Little Rabbit whispered back. "See you later."
It was when I read the above page that I started losing it. Oof. Harry begins to understand that Little Rabbit doesn't need him so much anymore. Little Rabbit barely blinks when Harry, who seemed so crucial to him before, begins to distance himself.

Earlier that afternoon I had picked my son up from his after school program. I was so excited to see him and concerned about how he'd been fairing in his new environment with new kids. I was practically frantic by the time I made it into the classroom.

There he was, zooming around the room with a Candyland game piece in hand, alongside a child about three years his senior. They were laughing and doing voices and I swear if I hadn't finally tapped him on the shoulder he may have carried on for hours without even noticing me. Even when I did so, he merely looked up and said "hi," then continued on his merry way.


This was a big change from the kid who three days previous was still clinging alternately to his dad and me as his TK teacher instructed the children to sit down on the carpet. With a forlorn look on his face he'd taken in the surroundings in a state of semi-annoyed mistrust.

What had happened in those three days?!

These two pages followed:

Shortly after the first snowfall, Little Rabbit was invited to an ice-skating party.
When he returned home, Little Rabbit told his mother all about it.
"It sounds like a wonderful party," Mother Rabbit said. "Did Harry have a good time too?"
Little Rabbit was startled to realize that he hadn't seen Harry in weeks.
 Holy shit. This was no joke. Through tears, I kept reading.

"Harry moved away, "Little Rabbit said. "He's got his own house now."
"Oh," said Mother Rabbit, "He's certainly welcome to visit anytime."
I couldn't make it through this page smoothly. I had to stop, words stuck in my throat.

But Harry never came back to visit the Rabbits.
Sometimes at dinner, Little Rabbit and Mother Rabbit talked about him.
"Harry doesn't have a phone at his new house," Little Rabbit said.
"And he never learned how to read or write. So I guess we won't be hearing from Harry anymore."
This one did me in. I couldn't pretend I wasn't crying anymore, and then I was alternating between crying and laughing. Crying because of course I was relating to this story on a metaphorical level and it perfectly symbolized the feelings I'd been having about my baby growing up and becoming more independent...feelings that had been building all week and were now coming to a head. Laughing because I knew it must have seemed strange to my son that, from his perspective, I was ALL KINDS OF BROKEN UP about Little Rabbit's *imaginary* friend Harry moving away, a plot development that hadn't piqued his emotions in the slightest.

He just lie by my side, unsure how to react, wanting to laugh with me or cry with me but realizing he didn't really get why I was doing either. That quiet waiting on his part was making me laugh as well. And so there I am hysterical in both senses of the word, trying to gain composure when he, with his barely-becoming-apparent comedic timing, chimes in with, "awkwaaaaaaaard."

And of course that made me laugh even more.

I kissed his little forehead and, having finally made it through, sang him his bedtime song, snuggled in a for a few minutes, then left him already fallen into the hard, super zonkout sleep that has characterized his first week at school.

Then I retired to the living room.

"This book fucked me UP," I said to my boyfriend, eyes puffy and red, I'm sure. Even in just trying to tell him about it, I was crying again. Then I was crying. Uncontrollable sobs like I haven't cried in years. And then laughing again because I know very well how ridiculous it is to be crying over this book.

But of course it's not about the book. And being a parent himself, my boyfriend recognized this. And so he sat with me and comforted me through the cathartic moment that I suppose just had to happen, however it was going to be brought on.

I'm curious all the time about how things get processed in my young son's mind. I wonder how he sorts all the events he's observing and makes sense of them. The Harry Incident, as I will forever forward refer to it, may be a difficult one for him to grasp. He knows his mom has never gone all whack over a bedtime book before. And a similar book-related incident won't likely repeat itself anytime soon.

Maybe one day he'll come across Imagine Harry again--one day when he is older, maybe a father himself--and he will understand. For the meantime, maybe on one level he'll know it had something to do with love: bold and undulating and sometimes achy but always-and-everywhere-present love, which is of course the best kind of all, and which is worth every tearful moment it may bring about.

Kevin's Sketch

A quickie...

Bron Aur Sleep.

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