Monday, August 17, 2015

Dear Kindergarten Mom

Nathan starts third grade today, so I'm kind of an expert when it comes to first days. You put the backpack on the kid, double check that he knows which hall to walk down, and head straight for the quickest drop-off line. No tears on either side, and you get a full report eight hours later. Three years ago, however, the story wasn't so cut-and-dry. There are some mothers of kindergartners who don't require a single tissue to get through the first day. The following is not for them.

Dear Kindergarten Mom,

That backpack is so big isn't it? Filled to the brim with folders and glue, crayons and Germ-X. It looks even bigger resting on the tiny frame of the baby you carried for nine months, held for even longer, and picked up every time he reached. Your arms have always been available to him. Your face is the first one he remembered. Your eyes are where he looks for answers: safety, comfort, and reassurance. Today, however, after you help him hang that giant backpack on the hook with his name, you'll leave him. He won't find your eyes when the bell rings.

Terrifying, right? This is way scarier than potty training or first shots, and I give you all the permission you need to be emotional. It's hard to think about your child navigating halls on his own and introducing himself to kids he's never met. He'll have to raise his hand to ask for a fresh pencil and find a teacher on recess duty when his scraped knee requires a band-aid.

Here's the thing, though. Listen closely, too, because this was the only thought that got me out of the car after crying my entire work commute three years ago. The fact that you love him enough to worry so much is why he can do all of those things on his own. You created and carried, nursed and nurtured, held and helped a human being. You've encouraged him to take steps without holding your fingers and told him to dream as big as he wants. Now, you've let him. You've given him the markers and safety scissors and tools to succeed in school.

He's going to do big things, too. I know kindergarten is a far cry from leaving him to unpack his bed sheets in the dorm room, but there's always a first step. The assignments that come home marked with stickers and smiles will mean your five-year-old is soaking up knowledge like a sponge. You will be amazed at the progress he'll make from now through the end of the year. It's unbelievable. His social skills will escalate with reading and writing and he'll be a different person by Memorial Day.

Bad days will be peppered in among the exciting new changes. He will be confused by a math lesson and afraid to ask for direction. He will feel left out on the playground. He will, unfortunately, be sprayed by a ketchup packet that his lunchroom neighbor didn't know how to open. At the end of those days, when you can actually feel the disappointment radiating off of your child, he will drop that giant backpack on the floor and he will find your eyes. He will find your arms and he will find the reassurance he needs to navigate the halls the next day. You've helped him know how to help himself.

He's going to be okay today, mama. You have already made sure of that.

PS: Check back with me next year. I talk big game now, but I have a sneaking suspicion these feelings re-emerge for the second round of kindergarten first day, too.

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