Parenthood always presents itself with numerous opportunities to learn something new. I feel like this week I learned the quickest way to achieve Ultimate Mom Guilt: Send Your Child to Kindergarten.
The years leading up to the Big Day seem endless and exhilarating and sweet and exhausting. Milestones of going to preschool are, in a sense, a badge of honor. “My child is old enough to be left in the care of others and socialize with his peers. He even knows his colors and no longer drops heat in his underwear! We are movin’ on up in the ranks of childhood!” The haze of early baby-raising lifts like a fog and many, like myself, drop those beloved kids off at the doors of their preschool a couple of mornings a week with a quick kiss goodbye and then RUN LIKE HELL in the opposite direction to embrace every ounce of freedom there is waiting outside in the form of a Starbucks date with a gal pal, a shopping trip to Target ALONE, or simply a few quiet hours at home zoning out to Wendy Williams. Thanks Teach! They’re your problem now! See ya in a few hours! I gotta catch up on my Hot Topics!
We completely take for granted that these kids will be in our total control and care and that these early years will tick away even though the daily grind of it all feels like we’re stuck in a hamster wheel. We rely so heavily on our personal routines, our tiny social circles, and the concept that “the greener grass” of independence is so far away. Even as June closes out of the preschool days, we parents get jazzed about the big transition ahead of us. A new badge of honor for the kids and US on the horizon. “Kindergarten next year- whoo hoo! We’re big kids now! We know our ABCs and understand that making eye contact with others when they talk to you is more appropriate than meowing like a cat! Movin’ on up, I say!” Think of all the amazing things I am going to accomplish now that they are in school all day! I am going to the gym. Daily. I am going to be one of those hot, fit moms that actually wears the workout pants AND WORKS OUT! I am going to meal plan, prep, and cook organic clean meals. I will start a Freezer Meal Club. I'm gonna write more. I am going to start a Book Club. I am going to volunteer! I am going to wear makeup and dress like an adult! I am going to make eye contact with others in the grocery store and not use the term “potty” when talking with them!
As summer inevitably drags on and the kids drive us insane, we look forward to the day we can ship them off! Is it September yet?!?!?!?
And then Back-to-School Season officially arrives.
I was excited for the teacher assignment to come in the mail. I was excited for the bus passes to be hung on the refrigerator. I was excited to add special dates to the calendar and prep the backpacks and lunch bags and first day of school outfits. And then I walked my middle son into his Kindergarten classroom for orientation and wanted to burst into tears.
Despite his palpable eagerness and confidence and genuine happiness to be right there in that moment, I physically felt the memories of his early childhood years get sucked away into a vacuum of time. A black hole of early childhood and parenting opportunities that I could no longer retrieve.
My Mom Guilt Meter went off the register as I sat in a tiny chair in the middle of Room 32. Meanwhile, he sat on a rainbow rug playing Legos with a total stranger he now referred to as “my new friend”. I didn’t do enough playgroups with him. I didn’t attend enough storytimes with him. I should have blogged more about him. I should have taken more pictures of him. I should have signed off Facebook and done more arts and crafts with him. I should have gone to more museums and parks and hiking trails in our free time. Every day was free time! Why didn’t I take advantage of it? I didn’t lay down on our own rug to play Legos with him long enough…
Kindergarten Orientation brought feelings to the surface that I hadn’t anticipated and the reality of one chapter coming to a close abruptly snapped shut in my face. I didn’t think I’d feel this overwhelmed by emotion, but as reality settled in, it dawned on me that when my beautiful, charismatic, spitfire of a child went through the doors of his first public school, he was no longer “mine” in the sense of what I had always known life to be with him. For 6 hours a day (essentially half of his waking hours), 5 days a week, he was in the care of other, albeit capable, adults that I didn’t really know. He would create a social life outside of the friends I chose for him because I got along with their moms. He would wake and eat on a different schedule. He would not have me there to tie his shoes or open his juice box or guide through unknown territory. He was my little fledgling taking his brave first flight and I would have to sit there and wait in my nest, with bated breath, to see how far he soared. It was a rite of passage that he so well-deserved, yet my unplanned heartache and regret filled the space in our home right where his absence was felt. I have loved him so deeply. But have I utilized and appreciated my time with him enough?
Perhaps I feel this form of grief and guilt more strongly with Ryan because when I sent his older brother off to Kindergarten, I had two “backup kids” at home. Ryan was in his first year of Preschool and I had a 6-week old baby literally attached to me. The sense of freedom and “greener grass” wasn’t even on my radar at that point. I was in a sleep-deprived state that welcomed any reprieve of being responsible for the older ones. And with Caiden, being the eldest, I DID do the playgroups and storytimes, music classes and museums… because I wasn’t so overwhelmed with being a parent to multiple children.
My middle child didn’t have the gift of being an only child for a few years. His gift was the companionship of his siblings. His gift was the opportunity to learn and see what life was like for older children up close and personal, as well as the hands-on training in being tender and understanding to children who were younger than him. Sadly, that still doesn’t completely soothe the sting of the guilt.
He’s so ready for this step, though. So INSANELY ready for this. For the past few days he has awakened extra early at 6:45am, dressed himself, and eaten breakfast with a giant fluorescent orange bus tag around his neck. And as I write this, I get it now. That bus tag, you see, that’s HIS badge of honor.
“You see this tag? It’s my ticket to an amazing experience, Mom! I have got so many friends out there I have yet to meet! I can teach them all my crazy jokes and show them all my silly faces! I can show them how kind and funny and smart I am! I can show my new teachers how different from my big brother I am. This time away from you is not the end, Mom. It’s the beginning. It’s the start of the path to becoming who I really am and full of so many possibilities at every turn! Movin' on up! And, Mom, I am so happy that you have been here since the beginning to hold my hand. We’re buddies and nothing can ever change that. Let’s face it, a kid like me really isn’t created out of playgroups, music classes, and homemade play dough. Seriously, Mom, give yourself a break. Grab a cup of coffee and take a breath. I’ll be back in 6 hours to give you a giant hug, tell you all about my day, and maybe, if there’s enough time, we can play Legos afterward.”