By Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco
Things are going down in the fourth grade.
Alliances are being formed, phones are being purchased and weaponized, boyfriends and girlfriends are being found (Seriously? Already???).
Fourth graders go to a new school in my town. From what I gather, kids typically have difficulty with this transition. And thanks to COVID, this year is far worse, as my son Matty and his fellow fourth graders were unable to say goodbye to their old schools and orient themselves to their new one.
The other night, before bed (it’s always before bed) Matty shared a laundry list of fourth grade intrigues/gossip/grievances. I couldn’t believe some of what I was hearing. How did kids get so mean all of a sudden? How did they get so sophisticated? And who the hell is Charli D’Amelio?
When he got to the end of the list, he looked at me: Mom, the psychologist. Mom, the fixer. What was I going to do to make things better?
I rattled off some possible solutions to his problems but internally grappled with a sudden realization: I can’t fix this.
When Matty was younger, I could fix most of his problems. Not napping well? I could ask my friend, a sleep specialist, for strategies. Inexplicably embroiled in a Nicki Minaj/Cardi B-style feud with another two-year-old in his day care? I could ask the teacher to intervene. Tossing his vegetables? I could hide some in his omelets.
Back then, I felt like a member of the team. But now, I’m sitting helplessly on the sidelines. Not just that—thanks to COVID restrictions on parental involvement in schools, I’m not even allowed near the field. I’m a mile away in my car, straining my eyes for a glimpse of something, anything.
Of course, I could decide to be that parent who calls the school about every infraction and informs other parents about the ridiculous things their kids are saying and accompanies her son everywhere. But I don’t want to be that parent. As a psychologist, I know it would only hurt Matty. I also know that no amount of helicoptering on my part would result in certain nine-year-olds becoming less obnoxious.
So it seems that the start of fourth grade has marked the end of my reign as Mom, the Fixer. I can no longer control Matty’s narrative. Every morning when he walks out the door, I feel like I’m sending him into the world alone, hoping that everything I taught him over the past years will help him as he attempts to fend for himself.
Fortunately, though, I can still look forward to the end of the school day, when Matty’s done fending for himself and returns home to me. Regardless of the drama at school, he still runs into the house and throws his (extremely heavy) bookbag down and charges into his brother’s room with the latest fantasy football updates.
And I know, come bedtime, that I’ll finally have the opportunity to move off the sidelines and get into the game, if only for the tail end. I can help Matty process the day he’s had and hopefully ensure that he ends it on a good note. I guess that makes me the closer?
I can’t fix fourth grade for Matty. I can’t use my psychologist tricks to make the drama go away. But I can be the person with whom he closes his day, the one with whom he downloads all of the madness that has gone on. So while maybe I’m no longer Mom the Fixer, I can still be Mom the Closer. And for now, at least, that will have to be enough.
Dr. Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco is a clinical psychologist and writer based in Summit, NJ, specializing in maternal stress and anxiety. She still remains hopeful that she can fix things, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. You can find her at DrCBTMom.com as well as @DrCBTMom on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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