Kindergarten Is Breaking My Heart

by Joelle Wisler
Joelle Wisler

There has never been a child more ready to go to kindergarten than my littlest. It was as if she felt like school was this big secret that she was finally going to be let in on. And once she knew the secret, she would finally be what all 5-year-olds obsess about being…BIG.

I didn’t cry as she walked to the bus holding her brother’s hand. I didn’t cry as the bus drove away — her little face pressed to the window, waving, smiling. I didn’t even cry as my husband and I walked back up the hill, in the odd quiet of being alone together for the first time in what seemed liked years. We looked at each other, like, what now? What do we do now?

What do I, after a six-year stint as a stay-at-home mom, do now?

I’d been alone before, of course. My daughter had gone to preschool. But that day felt different. Life was now different. It was as if there was a tiny cord that had been cut between us — a cord that I didn’t even know existed until then.

I’ve noticed that during the big moments in our kids’ lives, time tends to slow down. The details become sharpened, colors brighter, emotions more acute. I think I’ll remember that first day being alone in my house for the rest of my life. I remember how excited I was at first: I’m free for 7 hours and 26 minutes!

I can get all of my work done, I can plan my life, I can exercise when I want, I can prep dinner, and I can finish writing that damn book.

But then I remember how seeing her discarded toys didn’t induce the normal annoyance.

And then how folding her clothes, no longer tiny, pressed the nostalgia into my breastbone in a painful sort of way.

The moments when I’d forget that I was alone, my mind thinking, where is she? And then, oh. My heart would sink.

Making lunch and eating alone, no one chattering my ear off or complaining about what shape I cut the apples into.

Wondering what is she doing right now? Is she scared? Happy? Lonely? Does she have a friend? Is she eating anything at lunch?

Sitting in the utter stillness of the afternoon. A little voice cruelly whispering, “An important part of your job is done.”

And it is.

An important part of my job is done. And I never thought, when I was in the throes of the terrible twos and the even more terrible threes, that I would long for those days so soon. That all of those videos that I made of my kids when they were little would go unwatched because I cannot bear to watch them. I can’t listen to her little voice call cantaloupe “camel milk” without it breaking something inside of me. No one told me that it’s not the trenches of motherhood that are the hard part, it’s the climbing out of the trenches, the letting go, that hurts so bad.

That afternoon, when she got off the bus, there was this look in her eyes that was like, “Now, I know the secret. I know the secret to kindergarten.” She looked so proud. But also like she was thinking, I know the secret, but there’s my mom. I still need my mom.

She dove into me like we’d been apart for weeks. She didn’t seem big to me. She seemed so little. Her dirty face still the one that I’d wiped and kissed and seen smile every day of her life. And all I wanted to do was hold on to her tiny little-kid body and make time stop.

And then, yes, I cried. Because I was thrilled she was home, and also because I still need her too.