This fall my spirited daughter will head off to kindergarten. With the birthday cut-offs as they are in our area, she will be one of the youngest in her grade entering school at 4 years old. But this essay isn’t about that. Nor is it about whether or not to redshirt your kids. There are plenty of message boards and impassioned blog posts that do just that.
This is about the last year my partner and I spent agonizing over whether to send our daughter to elementary school this fall. We talked to her teachers, to education specialists, to friends and family. We consulted every expert. But ultimately, this wasn’t about her. This was about us. Really this was about me letting go. It’s always about letting go.
The letting go started before she was born. Letting go of the glowing pregnancy I’d hoped for, the birth I’d planned for. For us, it was letting go before we said hello. I met my daughter for the first time in the NICU a few hours after she was born.
I held on tightly during those first months of her life. At times, I felt physical pain when friends and family would hold her. While I no longer carried the weight of my pregnancy, it felt as though a part of me had been excised that I could not get back. Her entering the world, her being outside of me, meant saying goodbye to a way of knowing her.
The letting go continued. The excitement of her crawling and walking paired with the recognition that she did not need me to move around the world. Watching her joyful first bites of avocado, I relished in the enthusiasm she had for this new form of nourishment. I mourned what it meant to no longer feed her solely from my body.
The letting go grew more expansive as she got older. I remember the first time she sang a song she learned from a music class she attended with her caregiver. The understanding that she had a world outside of our world. That with each day she grew older, bolder, and further away.
The letting go when her brother was born took me by surprise. I was thrilled to welcome my son into the world but was wholly unprepared for the sadness and guilt I felt about it no longer being just my daughter.
4.5 years later, the letting go is about watching her become her own person. Sometimes that person is challenging and emotional and the letting go is about what it means to feel complicated feelings towards a little being who I love so deeply. It’s about understanding my limits as a parent. It’s about recognizing that she is firmly herself and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Ultimately, this past year has been about learning to embrace the letting go. As I came to the conclusion that whether I sent my child to kindergarten at 4, at 5, or at 20, I would still feel that letting go. That each phase of parenting, each milestone of growth, means embracing the changes and being present with the little losses that come alongside.
My father once told me that he felt most successful as a parent when my brother and I left the house and launched out on our own. That as hard as it was on him to have us leave, he knew he had done right by us because we were moving forward. For years this perplexed me. I think I understand it now.
As hard as the letting go can be, it’s my job as a parent to embrace it. So, my fierce girl will head off to kindergarten this fall. She is confident and excited. I’m getting excited — but I’m also sad. Sad to let go of what it has meant to parent the preschooler she is and the toddler and baby she was before that. I’m both and that’s okay.
So this September, I’ll let go a little more (and probably hold on a lot tighter too).