When Sam was born, there was something otherworldly about him. He reminded me of a baby Yoda or some wise elf who lives in the forest under a giant mushroom. He had knowing eyes and a strange calm about him—well, calm for a baby. To be honest, it sort of creeped me out in the beginning, like he was constantly watching me and judging me. As my dad examined him for the first time, he said that before I know it, I would be buying a school bag for him. I really thought that I would never survive that long, that surely in the few days following his birth I would be dead from sleep deprivation and worry.
The backpack arrived in the mail a few days ago—orange camouflage, with a matching lunch box. And I am still here.
Sam’s been going to daycare since he was 12 weeks old. I did not cry when I left him there on his first day. I have left him at the grandparents’ house and at day camp and play groups, and I have left him for hours and sometimes for days. We moved recently and we travel a lot, so we are used to hellos and goodbyes and everything that comes in between. We are used to separation and new teachers and new routines.
So I’ve been trying to figure out why this kindergarten thing is getting to me. The essence of our days will not change. We’ll get up, eat breakfast, make lunch, and then say goodbye. Sam will be off to school and I will be at home working. Pretty much business as usual. Except, it isn’t. At least right now, just mere days away from the first morning at the bus stop, it does not feel that way.
I look at friends’ pictures on Facebook, those whose children have already started school. I talk to other moms. I know everyone gets through the first day of kindergarten. I know that ultimately, this is what we want for our children: to grow, to learn, to have new adventures and new friends. Sam will be able to read a book—how freaking awesome is that?
Yet it feels like something important is slipping away at the same time, something vital and precious. Time, for one. If the past five and half years went by so fast, just how fast will the next thirteen go? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be able to stay in the game, stay present? Will I be able to hold on?
I have no regrets when I look back on the last five and a half years. We had an amazing time together, even when times weren’t that amazing, or they were tiring or frustrating or demanding. We had cuddles and afternoon naps together, and sunny afternoons on the playground. I don’t wish I would have breastfed him longer or stayed at home or took him to more Music Together classes. We did what worked for us, and it was all imperfect and complicated and not very pretty, but ultimately a lot of fun.
The one thing I do wish for, now that we are looking kindergarten straight in the face, is the feeling that I have accumulated some kind of a wisdom, or well of knowledge along the way, about how to raise him. It seems like I am always catching up, out of breath, thrashing from one obstacle to the next. Just when I feel like I have mastered something, a new issue pops up, and I am once again fumbling around for an answer. In the same day, I find myself explaining what his penis is for, why the sky is blue, how cars work, why the ancient Egyptians mummified their dead, why we shouldn’t call anyone a “poopy head,” where people go when they die, and why he can’t eat chocolate for dinner. It is mind-boggling and exhausting and exhilarating, and at the end of every day, I just know that one or more of my answers was muddled and lost in translation. There is no way to get better at this parenting thing, because the game changes every day, and I am required to be cool-headed and constant every moment.
And so I feel uncertain of whether or not I know the answers—the right ones, the comforting ones—when it comes to school and bullies and teachers and homework and sports and field trips. I feel like the questions are getting harder, the answers more complex, shaded by the small nuances of life he is beginning to understand. I really don’t want to muck it up for him. I have to get things right. School matters more than any other turning point until now. Its influences and effects will be with him for life.
In a way, maybe that is why kindergarten is a hard transition, because I feel like I am being tested. Everything that I have done so far will come under a microscope. Can he sit still? Can he write his name? Is he kind to other kids? Can he stand up for himself? Does he feel like he can take risks and learn and grow? Have I given him enough—love, time, attention, space—to form a foundation for the rest of his life? Will school tear down what I have built? Or will school make it into a splendid palace?
I know that in a couple of weeks, we’ll be well into our new routine and that it will all feel natural and familiar. I know that in the same way that we forget the pain of childbirth and the exact moment our baby first smiled or said a word, I will forget the cozy days of preschool. School will feel natural. I am not sure how this happens, this loss of memory, this settling into the new, but it does.
I also cannot explain how the goo in the orange cup turned into a boy who just today broke a wooden board with his elbow at Taekwondo class and who has a strong opinion about the color of his backpack. I don’t know if it’s something I did or science or magic or God, but if I had to guess, I would say that it’s a little bit of everything.