Muzzling Mama Werewolf

On Sunday evening, I felt like the mother I always wanted to be: relaxed, caring, engaged and playful. By 7:40 am Monday morning, the change I'd been fearing had already begun. As I struggled to get breakfast on the table, throw three lunchboxes together, and make sure I didn't forget the obligatory first-day-of-school photo, I was practically sprouting fur and fangs. With the start of the school year came the ugly return of the crazed Mama Werewolf.

Moms are supposed to cheer when school opens. As one of my Facebook friends posted on Sunday, "Yipee! My world is returning! I can taste the freedom!" Even though I look forward to the kid-free time, the start of school always fills me with anxiety. My jubilant mom friends ask why, and I struggle to explain. I hate all the rushing around, I'll say. Or, I can't handle the flood of emails raining down from three classrooms. I don't agree with the homework policy but don't have the gumption to fight the system. But all that sounds like whining, even to me. The resistance is much deeper, and I'm just beginning to figure it out. The truth is, sending my children to school makes me feel deeply vulnerable. For them. And for myself.

As a multiracial adoptive family, we are "different." My Ethiopian son Gobez, 8, and daughter Lemlem, 7, stand out on a campus where less than 1% of the children are of African heritage. My Indian daughter Didi, 9, has more classmates who share her ethnic background, but learning differences and a sensitive nature make the demands of school especially exhausting for her; I never know when she is going to come stumbling out of the classroom door in tears at the end of the day. To friends and acquaintances, my children appear happy, confident, smart and well-connected with their peers -- and they are all of those things -- but they are still vulnerable, to racism, to sexism, to cruelty and stupidity, to human frailty, at school and in the world.

Obviously, I need to get a grip. Fear and anxiety don't help you cope with actual challenges. This school year, I'm going to try to focus on the only thing I can control: my state of mind. I'm going to try to remember to be grateful for all the caring and competent teachers and staff who surround my children at school. I'm going to be thankful for all the moms and dads who are kind and supportive of our family, and for their lovely children. At pick up time, when I see that mom coming who always yells, "Hey, it's Angelina Jolie and her kids!" at us, I will softly curse like I always have, but then I will move on. I will shrug more. I intend to muzzle that Mama Werewolf, or at the very least, unleash the beast only when one of my children is truly in imminent danger, instead of driving myself and everybody else crazy howling at the moon.

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