My five year old started school last week. I have spent the last few weeks talking about it, planning, shopping, organizing, and labeling for it, and to be totally honest, generally freaking out about it.
I was very careful not to let on that I was freaking out. I took care to always mention how exciting it was going to be, and all the fun things he was going to do. We drove by his school on occasion and waved at the empty building so he would know what it looked like. We did a countdown to how many sleeps were left for a full week before, just like we do with all the fun events in our lives, we even had a special date day to purchase all his supplies. So let me tell you – on that first day, he was READY.
He did his morning routine, was fed and dressed and brushed and packed up in lots of time for First Day pictures on the front porch. He was all smiles as the bus pulled up and didn’t hesitate for a moment when it was time to jump on and find a seat.
I, on the other hand, was not so ready. I managed to make it until the bus had disappeared from view, and I had walked almost the whole way back down the driveway to the house, before I burst into tears. Then I got me and the Little One dressed and ready and drove twenty minutes into town so I could run some “errands.” I dropped off a parcel at the mail, and then drove by the school (even though it wasn’t actually recess time), just in case the kids were outside. They weren’t. I drove to the grocery store and picked up a few things I didn’t really need. Then I drove by the school again, even though it was still a good 15 minutes before recess. Then I drove through the drive thru and picked up timbits and a coffee and annoyed all the other drivers on the road by driving ever so slowly towards the school so that this time I would actually be driving by at just the right time. I pulled over when I saw kids playing and running on the grass, craned my neck in every direction, and then, finally, I spotted him.
He was running on the playground, towards the stairs on the jungle gym. He climbed up the stairs then ran across a bridge. I was too far to see his face, but I could tell by his body language he was relaxed and having fun.
“Ok,” I thought, “I can go home now. He’s good.”
Sure enough, at the end of the day, there was my beautiful boy, full of new experiences and stories. As I put him to bed that night and explained about the weekend and that he wouldn’t be going to school again until Monday, he was genuinely disappointed. And I was genuinely pleased that he had enjoyed his day so much.
I had expected some growing pains, but it had all gone so much better than I could have hoped.
What I hadn’t expected, was this “First Day” anxiety to follow me into the weekend. By Sunday night, I was feeling just as torn as I had the night before his big day. He’s had his first day, he knows what to do and what it will be like, I tried to reassure myself.
As I watched him get on the bus again this morning, eager for the adventure to come, I realized, it’s not him that’s having trouble adjusting, it’s me.
From the moment he was born there has hardly been a minute where I haven’t known exactly what that boy was doing or who he was with. Any time spent away from us has always been with people he knows well, and whom we trust. It isn’t the not knowing what he is physically doing that kills me, it’s not knowing what he is feeling. Is he feeling left out? Is he worried about something? Will he know who to ask for what, and will my normally quiet kid be brave enough to voice his question? What happens if someone is mean to him?
There are lots of things that have been hard about parenting. Feeding battles, sleepless nights, diaper blow outs, tantrums, spills, bumps and bruises, endless questions, no privacy, constant touching, whining, breaking up fights, cleaning up messes – all of these things are tough (and exhausting). Today I am learning that the hardest part is letting go.
A very wise and wonderful friend once gave me some sage advice – allow yourself time to mourn. You can’t fully move on toward a new season in life if you haven’t really grieved the last.
Today was my kid’s second day of school, and I cried just as hard as I did on the first. I know a time will come when I will get over this – when I will put him on the bus and go about my day, and not feel this aching sense of loss. But today is not that day. And because I love my son, because I want to cherish each stage of his life – even the ones that take him away from me – I will sit here and grieve the days where he was all mine. I will miss him with my whole heart. I will squeeze his little brother more tightly, knowing his First Day will come all too soon. And I will rejoice when he comes home to me.
Which, I just happen to know, is in exactly two hours and six minutes.