I did not remember much after Kindergarten orientation. I seem to have been completely overwhelmed trying to imagine my little boy in that large building and lost somewhere in the details of the curricula, the expectations, and the schedule. But, what I do remember is that my nervous-mommy brain spun the information into an unspoken, underlying message in the form of an unofficial slogan … “Kindergarten: where they turn your babies into men!”
I know how ridiculous that sounds. So I shook off the undeniable sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as “nerves” that would soon pass and instead got lost in the details wanting everything to be perfect for him … labeling EVERYTHING with his initials, making sure he knew how to open each lunch container without spilling its’ contents, taking him shopping for the perfect clothes, and packing and repacking his backpack one thousand times in front of him so that he knew he had everything he needed.
On the night before, we planned his first day outfit, we talked about what to put in his lunch, and he went to bed early. When he awoke, he was a huge ball of excitement. And, I was [mostly] excited for him. I made him his favorite breakfast of Reese’s pancakes, he got all dolled up, and we went outside to take some pictures. He looked so grown in his polo shirt and shorts, and yet he paled in comparison to his large backpack filled with Kindergarten survivalist gear hanging loosely off his shoulders.
So far, no tears. “I am doing great,” I thought, “What are all those mothers talking about when they say the transition to Kindergarten is so hard?”
Since my son is a “rider,” I went with him to school on the first day. Despite the orientation and the welcome packet, we were still unsure where to go exactly. We started heading toward the front of the building when a school staff member looked at my son and shouted to us over a sea of children (who looked much larger than my five-year old), “Kindergartener?” I nodded yes, she motioned him forward, and off they went into the building.
And the tears came. And they came. I tried to hold them back as I walked to the car, but they just kept coming. I put my head down to avoid the direct gaze of the parents who were there to drop off their older kids, embarrassed by the overwhelming emotion that I could no longer contain. And then, I finally calmed down, brushed myself off, and went about my day. It was rough, but it was over.
Or so I thought…
For the first month of school, I hated everything. I hated that I did not have daily face-to-face time with my son’s teacher like I did at day care. I hated that our main form of communication was written (either email or a folder). I hated that my son told me nothing about his days. I hated that his snack came back uneaten for days, and I did not know why. He did not appear to dislike school, but he did not appear to love it. He appeared to have resigned himself to the fact that this is what he did now, and I hated that too.
I tried desperately to hide my intense feelings, but the truth is that I was moody until about October. Until the day that all of my built up and poorly hidden sadness and grief came crashing down on me. Grief. That was it. I had been feeling grief. I was not having trouble adjusting to my son beginning a new chapter in his life. I was having trouble accepting the closing of the first chapter … the very first chapter in his life, and in my life as a mother.
I was grasping desperately to hold onto the first five years of his life—the walking, the talking, the cuddling, the cuteness, even the terrible-twos—I just wanted to hold every day, every hour, every minute, every second of his little life in my hands as if they were tangible, and never let them go.
Fast forward one year. He is a little taller; he is much more independent; he has two adult teeth where his baby teeth used to be; he can read and write complete sentences and solve some pretty challenging math problems. He is certainly not a baby anymore. But fear not. Kindergarten did not make a man out of him either.
He is excited to be starting another year of school. And I can honestly say that I am excited for him. He made some good friends that he cannot wait to see and is already looking forward to the new challenges ahead. Each year I imagine he will grow a little more, as he has during all of the years before, and truth be told, I am looking forward to seeing what new possibilities await us.
And so, as my son heads off to the first grade, please know that my thoughts are with you, Kindergarten Mamas. And my advice to you is simple. Take deep breaths. Cry if you need to. Reach out to a fellow mom if you have questions. Do not be afraid to feel what you are feeling, even if you feel like you are losing your mind. Sit with your grief as that first chapter closes. Remember fondly those early moments and grasp tightly onto them. Each of those moments has prepared your child for this.
And on that morning, completely take in that little face, so full of excitement, with each breath that you breathe. Kiss those little cheeks as they run to the bus or the school. Exhale your worries, sorrow, and grief. Because “…suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”–Meister Eckhart