Our First Day of School
Yesterday was my older son's first day of preschool. Now, bear in mind that I have been fortunate enough not to have had to place him in daycare at any point in his young life and during the hours when I must work, he and his brother are either with my husband or an auntie or a grandparent. Babysitting is a family affair.
So this was most certainly a big day - for both of us. We'd been talking about it for a month, counting down the days on a calendar and talking about how Mommy would be dropping him off at preschool and leaving him there by himself. Then I would come and pick him up when preschool was over. He seemed to be grasping the concept quite well.
Almost too well.
This morning we walked into the classroom (he was a little anxious we were going to be late and was happy to realize that we weren't) and he immediately held my hand a little tighter. A comfort to both of us really, but the teacher introduced herself, gave him a name tag, (which he liked very much), and we hung up his coat and put his backpack in a little, wooden cubby. And I realized this was my cue to exit.
So I reassured him again that I would pick him up very soon and it was time for him to go play and for me to leave . . . So he let go of my hand, said "OK, Mommy," and walked away. He only looked back when I said "I love you!" "Oh, I love you, too!" was his reply.
Now don't get me wrong, I was happy to see him let go of my hand so easily. I did not want to have to leave a screaming child. That would have broken my heart. Still, a crack has appeared anyway. It's not from a fear of leaving him with strangers for the first time; I liked his teacher from the moment she introduced herself - I got a good vibe from her. And it's not because I'm having to let go of my "baby" or that for the first time in his life I won't know what he's doing every second of the day. (That's not the root of it anyway)
When I got back to my car, I shed a tear because I was leaving my precious son with a building full of strangers, with not one person he recognized and could turn to for comfort, and yet he was going to be just fine without me. That was what struck me. His days of depending on me for his emotional and physical stability are over.
Now not entirely, I know. He can't go out and get a job and support himself just yet, but he made it through the morning, on his own, in a world full of strange people, new experiences and at times his own sense of loneliness. And he's just fine.
When I went to pick him up I was happy to hear he had had a good morning. I was also happy, in a strange kind of way, that he did have a couple of episodes of tears, too, and had told his teacher that he missed his mommy. (I know, I know); That when his teacher gave him a family picture of us to comfort him he wouldn't put it down for quite some time and insisted on bringing it home today. So I'm glad he still wants to be with us, but he didn't need to be with us to make it through.
Now I'm the first one to talk about the role of parents as being one to guide children to become independent adults who follow their own paths without guilt and a feeling of obligation to their parents. I talk a good game about how I want my children to do whatever they wish as long as it is positive and what they want - even if it's 1,000 miles away from me. And I mean all of it. I want them to achieve a sense of autonomy from me, no matter how much it hurts if they don't call every once in a while and check in or come visit occassionally, but I just didn't realize I'd have to face the conflict between my ideals and reality quite so soon.
I remember having the thought when he was born that the very moment he took his first breath outside of my womb, from that point on, his purpose was to become independent of me and to begin the journey of his own soul. (Chalk it up to hormones) But I guess I had forgotten, until today when I was brutally reminded, that my children do not belong to me - they are not mine. I am simply their guide and it is my job to follow their lead.
And If I do this thing right, maybe I'll get a thank you or two along the way, a phone call to catch up and maybe even a visit from time to time.