“Awwww… are you sad?”
This is, I think, simply what one says to a mother when they hear that kindergarten is on the horizon. It doesn’t matter if you’re sending your first, last or random middle child off, the very first day of the very first year of school is supposed to be a big deal to kids and a heartbreak for parents.
Except, well, I started sending my children off into the world on their own about 9 years ago when my oldest started daycare. My youngest has also been in daycare and, most recently, preschool. The idea of them going off into a building far away all by themselves is no longer novel or frightening. It just is.
“I’m OK, actually,” I told anyone who asked.
And I was. I was totally and completely OK. I was OK when we went through orientation last spring and when we met her teacher last Friday. I was OK when we bought her backpack and stuffed it full of new school supplies. I was OK when I woke her up and helped her pick out her clothes and took dozens and dozens of first day of school photos.
I was OK when we walked her to the bus stop and I was more than OK as I watched from a few feet away while she and her brother interacted with the neighborhood children. She was laughing and babbling and eager for me to leave her, and I was OK with that too.
I was even OK when I watched her climb into a big yellow bus that seemed much too big and much too yellow for her tiny pixie frame.
I came home and got to work, more than a little excited about having a child-free workday at home that hadn’t cost me a penny.
At some point, I got up and walked to my bathroom. On my walk back, I passed by my bed. A clump of dirty fur caught my eye and I was stopped in my tracks.
Bunny went with her to preschool every single day. Bunny sleeps with her and eats with her and comes out at random times when she needs comforting. Bunny was given to her when she was days old, a tiny, helpless creature who needed her mother for everything. And bunny had been discarded in my bed without a second thought this morning. And of course it was, because obviously she can’t take bunny to kindergarten.
Because kindergarten is not at all like daycare or preschool.
Because kindergarten is for big kids.
And suddenly, I am no longer OK.
How the hell does this keep happening? You go to bed with a cuddly, dependent child snuggled up against you, and you wake up to kids. Big, loud, talking and thinking and growing kids.
Their ideas get more complex and their need to be like you and seek your approval and share their day with you seems to fade as quickly as their baby fat. As quickly as their fear. And while you are thrilled to find them less afraid, you can’t help but be a little heartbroken when you realize that one of your most important roles – the role of soother and fear fighter – is now unnecessary.
Emma has spent the last three months terrified of going to kindergarten. She was, she assured me, not big enough for big school and not getting any happier as the big day approached. She would much rather just stay home with me all day, she insisted.
Two days ago she was afraid.
Today she is a kindergartener.
And I? Am not OK.