Tomorrow, I will rise early and sit through reading, writing, and praying, and then I will steal down the stairs to prepare breakfast, and then steal back up to kiss them from their beds and point to their chalkboard schedules.
Tomorrow, I will walk down a concrete sidewalk, my hand wrapped around the fingers of one and the hand of another, and I will watch the odd one out lag behind or run ahead, whatever his mood may be, because there are only two hands for three boys. Tomorrow, I will take my time on my way to the building half a mile from our home where I will leave three of them this time.
This year, another of my babies will join 125 other kindergarteners on his way out the door of my house and through the door of the world. And it doesn’t matter that I’ve done this twice before. That doesn’t make it any easier.
I already know that I will join the ranks of other kindergarten parents stopping at the door to watch their little big kid disappear into a world we have no control over, a world that doesn’t follow our rules or standards, a world that could be dangerous and terrifying and heartbreaking, all at the same time.
It’s true that tempers at home as we neared this day have ramped up, and their daddy and I have looked at each other more often than not in the last few days with eyes that said, “I can’t wait for school to start.” But the truth is, I don’t mean it, not at all, because school starting means they are gone from me — gone from my encouragement, gone from my presence, and gone from my protection. Never gone from my love, of course.
And then today, the three who will go have climbed on my lap periodically throughout the day, like they know what this last day home means. Their snuggles have whispered loud and wild and desperate into a mama’s heart: They can’t go. They can’t go. I can’t let them go.
Because what if?
What if they don’t make any friends and become the outsider? What if they don’t like their teacher and their teacher doesn’t like them? What if the time they spend outside our home breaks their spirit or their confidence or, God forbid, their whole heart?
Tonight, I will wander through the hallways of my home like I always do, and I will touch those backpacks hanging on their hooks, and I will slip into their rooms to look at their sleeping faces — so big and yet so, so small — and I will cry and beg and pray that this year will be a good one. I pray that this year they will know, without a doubt, that they are capable of wading through the raging waters of life, that this year they will really, really believe, deep down in the places where it matters, how important they are to me, to their friends, to the whole wide world, just the way they are.
I can tell them this every single day of their lives, but they have to learn it for themselves. Away from home. Out in the world. Somewhere else.
I know this. And yet it is not so simple, this letting go. I know what breaking feels like, and I don’t want it for my boys. I know what defeated feels like, and I don’t want it for my boys. I know what cruelty feels like, and I don’t want it for my boys.
It sounds silly, I know, because it’s all just a part of growing up — the pain, the disappointment, the heartbreaks. Don’t I want them to grow up? Don’t I want them to be their own people? Don’t I want them to learn they can do it all without my constant help?
Yes. But no. I mean, yes. Yes, of course.
It’s just that yesterday he was only days old and I was just learning how to be a mother. Yesterday I was holding his hand, cheering him on as he put one wobbly foot in front of the other. Yesterday he needed me to bathe him and pour his milk and tie his shoes and pick out his clothes and tuck him in.
Where did the time go? Where did the baby go? Now they are only big, only tall, only lanky and self-sufficient and excited about this step outside the home, and I am only grieving. What does one do with this grief?
Well, I will fall apart, just outside their rooms, where I can hear them breathing in a sleep that feels far away from me this moment. Because it’s just so hard. So hard to watch them go.
It’s only one of a thousand steps. I know this. Theirs is a gradual leaving. I know this, too, but it doesn’t ever feel that way. It feels jarring, like we just weren’t ready, like we haven’t had the last five years to prepare for this day and the 12 first days after this one. (That last first day I try not to think about.)
Tomorrow, I will walk them into this new step toward independence, and I will leave them in a place where they will learn about a world outside our home, where they will sit in classrooms with kids who can choose kindness or cruelty on a minute-by-minute basis, where they will watch their peers eat the cookies in their lunches first if they want.
Tomorrow, we will stop just outside the doors of the school, where they will pose and their daddy will snap a thousand pictures for this momentous first day, and they will all smile so proudly, and I will weep so proudly, because they are my babies. Still. Forever.
And then we will walk to those classrooms, where two of them have done this drill before, and one, well, one will turn at the door, and his eyes will ask that question, “Are you sure?” and I will have to make mine say what a mouth cannot.
“Yes, baby. I’m sure.”
Even though I’m not.
But he is ready. He’s ready to step out in independence. He’s ready to walk in the world. He’s ready to grow and learn and become his own person outside of me. And God it hurts because he’s still my little one I pulled into bed with me those nights he didn’t sleep and I was too exhausted to sit up and feed. He’s still my little one I watched master the stairs before he even mastered walking. He is still my little one who hung upside down on the monkey bars before he could even speak complete sentences while I stood at the bottom with my arms stretched out, waiting for the fall I hoped would never come.
I am still standing at the bottom with my arms stretched out, waiting for the fall I hope will never come.
So I will let him go. I will let him walk in that classroom and greet his teacher, even though he probably won’t remember her name just yet, and I will leave him, and his daddy will squeeze my hand, because he knows just what this is doing to me, and we will walk back home with the three youngest who would fill a house for anyone else but make mine feel empty.
I leave him because I know he’s ready to try out those wings we’ve been building. I know he’ll crash-land sometimes and I’ll have to pick him back up and kiss those bleeding knees, but he will build mightier wings because of it. I know he’ll fly.
He will find his way into friendship, and he will learn the best games to play at recess, and he will love his teacher. He will be just fine.
He will be just fine.
Because he is stronger than I know. He is braver than I can even imagine. He is more than capable.
Tonight I will tiptoe into his room for one last look, one last touch, one last kiss on those dark lashes that only feel my lips in his dreams. And then I will leave, back to my room, back to my bed, where night will pull down the covers.
Tomorrow is a special day. Tomorrow my boy will make his first flight.
And I will be there, always, watching with proud tears and an aching heart.