I am the mom of three kids and my oldest, my 5-year-old, always seems SO BIG to me. She towers over her brother and sister and orders them around as though she is a queen and makes friends with a simple, “Wanna be my friend?” and uses big words like “hypothesis” and “crustacean.” She can wipe her own butt! She can write her own name! She can read the word “No.” She sits in a booster seat and FASTENS her own seat belt. She seems so big all of the time, that some days I have to remind myself she’s *only* five. Much of the time, it feels as if her high school graduation is right around the corner.
But then we walked into that kindergarten classroom on the first day of school and she was unsure of where to hang her backpack and where to sit. She seemed uncharacteristically timid and reserved, was dwarfed by her tall teacher, and looked lost in that sea of twenty-five children. And in that moment, she seemed so SMALL to me. HUGE in my heart, but so very small in the big picture of life.
She put on a brave face, though, and gave me a smile that didn’t look real and said “‘Bye, Mom” in the tiniest, shakiest voice.
I left her there, coloring her picture, with tears in my eyes. I walked away, feeling vulnerable. Fragile. She was the one who was in a new environment, without me as her safety net, but I was the one who had just released a piece of her heart into a foreign land of bullies and peer pressure and influences of which I have no control. I now have to fully rely on others to look out for her well being and I am terrified.
Her first day of school went well, as did her second. She may have been nervous, but shed no tears at my departure and, at the end of the day, she ran to me with wild, joyful abandon and said, “I had so much fun, Mom!”
But the third day? She wept when I dropped her off. She hugged me fiercely and mumbled into my shoulder, “I’m going to miss you. Don’t be gone all day.”
I dried her tears and stepped away, only to watch them fall again. They started and stopped over and over as we waited for her teacher to come out of the classroom and lead the line of children inside for the start of another day.
My heart ached watching her, ached as it maybe never has before. My brave child, my social butterfly, my big personality, my fearless diva who walks into a room and owns it…here she was, showing her weakness and vulnerability at last. Here were her tears, proof positive that she still needs me.
And I, her.
Because as she walked away from me, wiping her eyes, following the other kids into her classroom, she tugged my heart along with her and I felt empty and lonely and unsteady in its absence. It stayed with her all day and returned to me only at 3:40pm, when that sweet child’s hand was back in my own.
I didn’t know it would be like this. I thought I was stronger. I thought I was ready for this. I thought, maybe, horribly, that our bond just wasn’t that great. That, maybe, her growing up and going to school all day every day would be a relief to both of us.
As it turns out, we are no more ready for this transition than anyone else and she still needs me and I need her and we’re in this together.
And that realization is a relief, and a gift, in itself.