Letting Him Go

Almost three years ago, I wrote this post on my personal blog. Today was N’s first day of kindergarten, and somehow it was harder for me than it was taking him to preschool that first day. This child, who is so ready to go into the world yet still so connected to his home, walked into a classroom I know nothing about, with kids neither of us has ever met, and he came back out just a little more grown up than usual.

My first baby started preschool last week. He didn’t cry, or cling to me, or watch the door when I dropped him off. My god, was that heartbreaking a big relief. I was the only one clinging, watching, crying. I had spent the entire previous week freaking out about the impending change. And by “the previous week’, I mean the last three months. For the past two plus years, N has been going twice-weekly to an amazing woman who is a friend to me and a second mother to my child. He grew up with her, and she knows N better than anyone other than me. When I walk out of her door every Tuesday and Thursday, I know she will nurture him like I would, and that I will return to pick up the exact child I dropped off.

But preschool – preschool is rife with uncertainty and unknown circumstances. New kids, new interactions, new expectations. I can’t sit and watch the whole time, can’t make sure his needs are interpreted correctly and met quickly. It terrifies me. It’s so…real world. And the real world can be so hard on little egos, on little souls. Will he find out the hard way, when some child makes a cruel remark, that not every little boy loves pink Dora the Explorer backpacks? Will someone hurt his feelings, causing him to make the crushing “I’m sucking these hurt feelings right back in” look that only those who know him best will recognize? Will he break a rule he didn’t know existed and take the discipline personally?

I know each and every one of these things will happen to N as he moves away from me and discovers the world in his own way. I just am not quite ready for that to begin happening right now. I put a lot of thought into preschools that would nurture N’s creativity and his love of learning while still letting him be little, and I’m confident that’s what I’ve found. But nothing can protect my baby from – *sob* – growing up. Growing away. From his Mama.

When we pulled into the school parking lot, I breathed deeply, and N shouted excitedly, “My school! I can’t wait, I can’t wait!” I could hear the nerves ticking his octave up, but the excitement was real. We talked up this preschool business for months. You’re a big boy, now! Three-year-olds get to go to preschool and learn so many fun new things! But I’m sure he could feel what I was really thinking: I’m not ready! It’s scaring the shit out of me, and I’m an adult! How will you ever handle it?!

N asked me to carry his backpack up the sidewalk until he saw a little girl pulling a backpack just like his. He ripped the backpack out of my hand, popped the little handle up, and pulled it confidently down the sidewalk. That backpack was the first thing he introduced to each teacher we met that morning. His big talking point. “I got this new backpack! It’s like a special suitcase just for school!” A great way to break the ice, with a prop to look at so he didn’t have to shyly make eye contact. So much like his dad, it tugs at my heart.

As it turned out, I had to be the brave one and actually walk out the door, leaving my big boy behind. I left him happily playing with some blocks like he’d been there every morning of his life. It was a proud, heartbreaking, anxiety-ridden moment. I spent the next four hours trying not to call and check on him every ten minutes. (I only broke down and did it once). When I returned, N was standing next to his backpack, waiting patiently for me to come. He’d had a great morning; his teacher said she’d take a whole class full of kids like him any day. I exhaled. Finally. Looking at him there, standing so tall and proud and grown-up feeling next to his brand new backpack, I knew my worst fears had come to fruition. I’d dropped off my baby, and picked up a big kid already discovering his independence. And tomorrow, we start it all over again.

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