Kindergarten shouldn’t be anything particularly different or stressful. Yet I am still a wreck, hours after I watched him walk ever more certainly away from me in that single-file line, backpack bouncing on his shoulders, his laminated fish-shaped name tag tied around his neck with a fuzzy piece of yellow yarn.
He is excited. And ready. There are so many possibilities waiting for him in this new, bigger world. And I wonder why it is he sees all of the good possibilities while I see the bad ones? He sees the possibility of new friends and I wonder if there will be a bully in his class. Or maybe two. He is excited about a new school and all that comes with it – new toys, new people, new things to learn – and I wonder if the old and sweetly familiar isn’t better. I worry how the decisions we’ve made as parents will affect him and if he will be happy and cared for in this new place.
I don’t know if this is part of being a parent or just part of being a neurotic parent, but I wish I felt a little less like I were walking around without my skin on. Everything feels raw and exposed with him in this new environment where I can’t control how people will react to him or give him little nudges when he needs them. This, really, is nothing new; he’s been navigating his way through playground politics for two years now, but it feels bigger this time. I know this is just one of the many steps he will take towards independence, but it feels a significant one.
My mother’s words keep running through my head. “It is a parent’s job to work their way out of that job.” (Although, I am 38 and still call my parents for everything so maybe the joke’s on them.) But today felt a little like a step towards working my way out of being a mommy. Like any day now, I will stop being mommy and start being “mom.” Mom. Mom said with an eye roll and all of the teen angst he can muster. Sigh.
I am getting ahead of myself though. I want to concentrate on today because today I got to hold his little hand while we waited for the long walk to his classroom and I got to give him kisses in the cafeteria. I got to whisper in his ear that the most important thing he can be is kind and prayed other parents were whispering the same thing in the ears of their wiggling five-year-olds.
I held it together as long as I was with him because he was so, so excited and I didn’t want him to believe there was reason to cry. I thought I might make it out of the school before I broke down but as I watched him walk away, the tears came. There he went, my baby, but not quite my baby any more. Because while I can still see the little boy pudge in his cheeks and in the dimples on his fingers, I can also see glimpses of the big kid and teenager he will become.
I stood in the hallway, a living version of the ubiquitous mom plea on Facebook feeds the world over. “Slow down time!” we all say when we post pictures of the next birthday or milestone. It’s senseless and it’s overused but there is a reason we all say it. Time is stealing our babies and turning them into young men and women. Their round cheeks and bellies are becoming leaner and they are starting to pronounce words without the funny little speech quirks kids have. They are becoming different creatures entirely, creatures who need us a little bit less.
We’re doing our jobs and turning them into big kids who march confidently away from us and into the unknown, with only their new backpacks for armor, hoping they will be brave and kind while we feel anything but brave. On the inside, I was the one kicking and screaming, grabbing him tightly and begging him not to go. Not quite yet. I wanted him to stay a little longer and let me kiss his pink cheeks a few more times; smooth his hair once more.
I didn’t kick and scream though. Nor did I run down the hall, grab him, throw him over my shoulder and spirit him away like I wanted to. Instead I watched him go, knowing it won’t be the last time I watch him walk away from me. And I hope, as hard as it may be, that the next time he does, it is with just as much excitement and fearlessness for the future as he did today.
*Bonus points to anyone who can name that tune. Hint: This song comes from a musical sequel that probably should never have been made but was still the soundtrack of my youth. It was bad but bad in the way that eight-year-old girls think it is amazing.