August 18, 2014

Some people call it the calm before the storm, but I call it the storm before the storm.

The black clouds started rolling in two weeks ago. I was treating the girls to lunch at our favorite neighborhood pizza joint, and as the waitress plopped down our lemonades, she looked at the girls and said brightly, “Well girls, it’s almost time for school to start. You ready?”

Miss M. looked at her shoes and didn’t respond.

Miss D. tried to be funny. She covered her ears and said, “Ack! School! Don’t say that word! I’m scared.”

We laughed then but it wasn’t really funny.

It was the first time I’d heard my older daughter admit that she was scared about going to school. She didn’t even say she was scared last year, her maiden voyage into middle school. And maybe she wasn’t scared last year, because she didn’t really know what she was getting into.

But now she knows.

She only lets me see the scared in brief fragments–little cracks in her demeanor that blaze hot and fast and if I’m not careful, I miss them. And if I miss them, it’s my loss, because she sure isn’t going to talk about them.

This girl who used to talk so much I feared I’d lose my mind.


We attack her closet and dresser drawers with grim resolve, weeding out the items that are too small or that she no longer will wear.

There’s quite a bit in the “too small” pile but even more clothing in the “no longer will wear” pile.

Things in the “no longer will wear” pile:

~pale pink shirts

~bright pink shirts

~soft yellow shirts

~bright yellow shirts

~baby blue shirts

~bright aquamarine shirts

~purple shirts

~vividly patterned shirts

~any shirt with a speck of lace or embroidery


The shirts she keeps? Black.

The skirts she keeps? Black.


I’m not sure why this bothers me so much (since I am a woman who possesses a closet full of black herself).  It just seems so sudden and eerily symbolic. I don’t like the idea of her choosing funeral attire for school.

When D. was little, she was attracted to the brightest colors and the most audacious patterns. She was a raucous display of hot pink and turquoise, flower and flourish. Mama and I used to laugh about it. We’d walk into a store and Mama would pick out the loudest thing in the store, hold it up, and we’d say in unison: “Yep, it’s D.”

That vivid peacock of a girl now wears blackblackblack.

I hate it.


Miss M. has had several playdates this summer with Ivan.*  We even took him with us to the giant water park, where they splashed and squirted and goofed and giggled. They’ve missed each other. When they get together, they talk such a fast blue streak about Pokemon that you can’t get a word in edgewise and it’s beautiful in a dorky and hilarious way.

The same day we went to the water park, I got a text from Ivan’s mom.

C: “Hey Dana, is it okay if we pick Ivan up around 5? It’s back-to-school night.”

Me: “That’s perfect. We’re going, too. I hope they’re in the same class!”

C: “Actually, we went by the school earlier to check. They’re not. I don’t know how I’m going to break this to him.”


Remember when this happened at the beginning of school last year? When Miss M. didn’t have any friends in her class?

Eventually, she made friends. By the end of the year, she had three. But it took ALL year to make three friends, and Ivan is her most cherished.

When we check the class list at back-to-school night, it’s a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy: Miss M. has an absolutely amazing teacher this year. Sadness: again, none of her friends are in her class. We’re starting out with the same blank slate we did last year.

I can only hope that this year, since we’ve been through this before, we’re better prepared to weather whatever comes at us.


This weekend, Miss M. made a card for her new teacher.  The front of it is decorated with exploding fireworks, made vibrant with many colors of glitter glue.

Miss D. passes by, looks at the card and says sourly, “Why did you decorate a back-to-school card with 4th of July stuff?”

Miss M.’s eyes widen at the criticism. She looks like she’s been struck. I want to kick my older daughter in the shin.

“Quit being bitter,” I tell her sharply. “Once upon a time, you were excited about school, too.”

“Many moons ago,” she retorts. “Many moons.”


This morning, Miss M. isn’t hungry for breakfast.

We settle on a glass of chocolate milk, a few bites of bread and butter, and call it good.

She dons her new dress– a bright pink confection with ruffles of red and yellow. A dress that screams optimism. She insists on brushing her hair herself and does so with slow, careful strokes.

“Don’t forget about lunch,” she reminds me.

“I’ll be there,” I assure her. “Since D. doesn’t start until tomorrow, I’ll bring her, too. We’ll both be there for you, okay? We’ll be waiting.”

“No,” she says, with a shy smile. “It’s me who will be waiting for you.”

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer August 18, 2014 at 7:27 am

Ugh. I’m really worried about school this year. Cady goes into fourth grade. Middle school is such a bitch. I’m worried about her dyslexia. I’m worried about the changes in friends. I’m worried about a lot of things. But I put a smile on my face and tell her it will be great and that everything will be fine while I cross my fingers behind my back just in case.


Dana Talusani August 19, 2014 at 9:22 am


That’s what we do, right? Smile and act like you know everything’s going to be just fine. Hoping that’s true for Cady.


Cassy August 18, 2014 at 8:05 am

My heart just cracked reading this. Oh how we worry about our littles… No one ever warns you about how motherhood places your heart on the outside of your body. Much less the gut punches. Thinking about you guys. xo


Shannon August 18, 2014 at 8:15 am

I’ve got one starting middle school and one starting high school this year, so a big year of transitions. Giving you virtual hugs of solidarity.

Also, my youngest has an affinity for black, too. Always has. Her kindergarten teacher used to save the black stickers for her because she knew that was her favorite color. Sounds like she and your D would be fast friends.


Dana Talusani August 19, 2014 at 9:26 am


You do have big transitions this year! Best of luck!

I think I wouldn’t care so much if D. had always loved black, like your daughter. This changing stuff though–ugh!


Dana August 18, 2014 at 11:14 am

Oh my gosh, I’m really feeling this post… My chatterbox girl is six but I know how that will end. Good luck with this latest hurdle in life.


Erica August 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Oh geez. I’m so sorry. Just this year, as in the week before high school graduation, Gavin told me just how much he hated school every single day. I felt horrible. Okay, I felt like shit. I knew he wasn’t as enthusiastic about school as his brother was but how could I totally miss that he hated it. How did I not know??

On the flip side, he called me today to tell me about his first day of college classes and actually said, “Maybe this school thing isn’t so bad.”

Also, he used to pick out BRIGHT yellow shirts for school every year. Then suddenly, he only wanted to wear black & white. I was afraid that he was turning into a doomer (or whatever they are called now). Turns out the kid is partially color-blind and wearing b&w was the only way he could ensure he didn’t look like a European tourist when he dressed himself. Finding out about the color-blindness was a relief for me.

Best wishes that both girls and you have a better school year! xoxoxo


Dana Talusani August 19, 2014 at 9:27 am


That’s so interesting about the color blind thing! Who’d have thought?

Hope college is a great experience for him!


Biz August 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I actually miss the back to school routine – everything seems fresh and new. Hannah didn’t have many close friends either – about five that she carried on from 4th grade when we moved to this town. It’s just weird now that she’s 22 – she’s had 10 girls she knows already become Mom’s and two girls who have already been married, had a kid and divorced – all by 22!

I have high hopes for Miss M. – maybe you can convince the teachers to put them in the same class?


Lisa August 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Oh, my heart! OK, I wasn’t terribly worried about Kidizlla and first grade in a new classroom…until right now. Or maybe I just chose not to think about it. Or maybe there’s just been too much other change around here this month to worry about that. Yet.
But I am worried. She loves fast and she loves hard – other kids don’t like that. She’s loud and quirky and a whole slew of other adjectives that aren’t, let’s say, mainstream. But she’s wonderful and smart and talented and fabulous and so unique. You know, all those things that school just doesn’t really lend itself to. Ugh.
I feel so anxious for your girls and for you – because this affects Mammas too, of course. Too bad Miss M. and Ivan aren’t in the same class – that would be too terrific. It’s terrible to dread going back to school. Thank goodness Zilla doesn’t – she’s totally excited. And I hope she stays that way and stays sure enough of herself to toss off all the rest of the potential nonsense.
I wish you all as painless a back-to-school as possible.
Sorry if I’m rambling stupidly – have a huge cold and I feel way off my game. I should probably stay away from computers until I’m up to par.


Dana Talusani August 19, 2014 at 9:28 am


Kidzilla sounds a lot like Miss D. was at that age–definitely fast, hard and energetic. I worried that she’d struggle in school but the elementary years were great.

Hope you feel better soon!


elizabeth August 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm

It sounds to me like Miss D is in the need for some armor right now, and so black is speaking to her–this may be counter-intuitive, but indulging it a bit and letting her take what might be a more minimalistic look might help her feel more comfortable. (Think Calvin Klein/Prada from the mid-90s, a look I still can’t quite shake myself because it rocks.) It’s definitely a rough transition, but it may prove to be a really positive one in the long run–she simply may need a little time to go under the radar before she’s at ease with being her bright, boisterous self again.

As for Miss M–hurrah for having a good teacher, and hopefully said teacher is able to draw her out of her shell a little bit sooner than others previously.

Many hugs to you and your girls.


Dana Talusani August 19, 2014 at 9:29 am


You’re probably right about the black being her armor. I’m trying to be a good sport about it. This too shall pass…I hope!


Katybeth August 18, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Where something optimistic to lunch!
And cheers to a good start to the new school year.


Katrina Kenison August 19, 2014 at 6:28 am

You would think, given that I’m the mother of two grown-up BOYS, now 21 and 24, that I could read this without crying. But no. You got me in the dresser-cleaning paragraph. For a whole, fun, silly year, Jack wore bright orange everything. We scoured the earth for orange — orange crocs, orange t-shirts, orange undies, orange parka. Until the lights went out and he went black on us, inside and out. It didn’t last forever. (He likes pink now, is a man fully comfortable in pastel.) But it was painful, for all of us. ANd looking back, I see most of the pain was his. This is a beautiful evocation of a moment, my friend. So glad you wrote it all down. onward!


Virginia August 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

I had one year of black. It was 7th grade. I’m not sure when I started only seeking out black clothing, but it drove my mom crazy. In 8th grade I added color, but it’s when grunge was in, so I was constantly raiding my 6’3″ dad’s wardrobe (I’m 5’4″). That also drove my mom crazy.

If I could have articulated the need for the black, it was I wanted to hide. I didn’t really fit in with any of the crowds in junior high, so I had few friends and was too insecure to reach out.

But, I know this sounds like a super long while, by sophomore year I bounced back. By Junior year I was wearing my usual colors again, yellow became my favorite color (still is) and I really found myself again.

My oldest is going to her first year of middle school. She’s so excited. I’m a freaking nervous wreck. So, virtual hugs to you and your girls!!!!!!! May their years be even better than they can imagine.


Annie August 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I hope that they find security and friends within their classes this year and can navigate it all once more. Such nerve wracking and heart wrenching experiences for a mother to watch from the sides though! Keeping you all in my thoughts. Xoxo


Alison August 20, 2014 at 2:26 am

Oh god, it all sounds like so much. Transitions, growing up, passages of time.
Many hugs and good vibes to you and your girls.


Annette August 20, 2014 at 8:16 am

Keep us posted and let us know how things turn out for the girls!


Tiffany September 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Sigh…going back to school isn’t easy. Here’s hoping it goes better than you imagine.


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