Off They Go

If I wrote this post yesterday, it would be unrecognizable.

Yesterday, on the eve of my youngest child’s first day of kindergarten, I was a teary anxious mess. Internally. Outwardly, I was holding it together. By a thread.

I kept having these dual and seemingly contradictory thoughts:

I am absolutely ready for him to go to kindergarten.
I am absolutely NOT ready.

Both felt entirely true.

We spent our last official “Mommy Day” at one of his favorite places, the Crayola Experience, playing with model magic and posing for silly pictures beneath a cascade of melted crayons.

Off they go 1

I tried my best to remain present. Not checking my phone or thinking about the udon soup I planned on having for lunch. Instead I inhaled his sweet smelling head and tried to snuggle him as we rolled out clay and cut them into shapes.

“Stop it, mom,” he said with a smile, pushing me away. I went in for more and he put up his hands.

“Okay, okay, I’ll stop.”

I watched two moms enter the room with their matching set of children, a toddler and a baby each. They held their infants while attempting to reign in their antsy three year olds. One toddled off toward us, pausing to stare at Leo, who was too busy cutting out gingerbread men to notice. I thought about how not so long ago I’d been one of those moms, but now I felt the distance expand as I drifted out of that frame and into another.

After finishing up at Crayola, we left for our respective treats: for Leo, a frozen yogurt topped with M+M’s, and for me, a bowl of steaming hot udon and veggies. A couple bites in, I felt my throat tighten up. After a few more, I could barely swallow. Here I was, getting what I wanted, and yet, I felt no pleasure.

I wondered if tomorrow’s milestone would feel similar. After years of aching for a quiet house and time to myself, I was about to get exactly that, but I had no idea if it would leave me feeling hollow or filled.

Turns out, both. It’s always both.

This morning I woke early, making lunches, filling backpacks, with enough time left over to make a batch of pancakes. Leo had a hard time getting out of bed, my bed, where he had appeared sometime in the night.

“I’m scared, Mommy,” he said, burrowing beneath the sheet. “I don’t want to go to school.”

“I know, honey,” I said, giving him a snuggle before luring him downstairs with the promise of Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes.

And then it was time. Sneakers on, backpacks slung onto shoulders, and out the door.

My husband said, “how about a first day of school picture?” and I froze, thinking Leo might refuse, or suddenly realize the thing he had feared all summer long was actually happening. Maybe he’d cling to my leg like so many preschool mornings, or run back into the house. But to my surprise he smiled and posed with his sister.

off they go 2

Then the bus slid into view. I put my phone away, too nervous for photos, afraid that trying to capture this pivotal moment would somehow jinx it. I had led myself to believe it might not actually happen. Maybe he wouldn’t get on the bus. But it was. Happening. We crossed the street, his sister leading the way.

He hesitated for a second. “Go on,” I said, and he did.

My baby got on that bus and sat down, disappearing from view. My husband and I stood at the end of our driveway, watching the bus begin to pull away.

We waved, and to my surprise, my son’s face appeared. His sweet smile framed by the window, and his hand mimicking ours, and then he was gone.

I felt a swell of emotion begin to rise, but when my husband asked, “Are you okay?” it subsided. Tears reversed. All the worry and anxiety had melted away, leaving me feeling empty, but not in a bad way.

“I think so,” I said.

My world is changing along with my children’s. I don’t have babies anymore and this is both a relief and a grief. We graduated that stage, albeit a little reluctantly on my part, and my son’s.

We’d been clinging to each other rather tightly these past few years. Perhaps because I suspected he was my last, I’d been holding on a bit too hard, or maybe it was just the right amount.

But this morning I let him go, and then, hours later, he returned. My little guy bounded off the bus and into my arms, giving me the tightest, sweetest hug.

I don’t know what tomorrow will be like, or next week, or next year. I don’t know how or if my heart will break or swell when I drop him and his sister off at college.

Probably both.

off they go 4

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22 thoughts on “Off They Go

  1. You put into words exactly how I felt. I actually had my “last day” together with him today. While I know his first day was yesterday, I knew I had this day waiting for me like a precious little gem. We did some of our favorites…. gym, library, Solebury orchard. But-sounds like you did way better than me at bus pick up. I was chocking back sobs. I shocked even myself. 😬

    So glad to hear he had a great day! Here’s to hoping for plenty more for our last babies!!!

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    • They are often harder for us, I agree! Oh, wow, high school. I know the moment they go off to college, these “smaller” milestones will seem like a blink of an eye, and so small in comparison. And yet, in the moment, they are everything.

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  2. So, I could have pretty much written this! I’m glad things went well for your son! My son is in first grade now, and my daughter now runs to the bus every afternoon for kindergarten because she is THAT excited to go to school. All I can think about is the two-year-old who would not leave me lap EVER. I didn’t realize how much I would feel that this is the end of a stage – especially since she is only in half day kindergarten!

    Also, for years I wondered why my mom helped me unpack my bags in my freshman dorm room and then hit the road when all of the other parents seemed to linger, take their kids out to lunch, tour the campus, etc. Well, as I trudged up the hill with tears in my eyes after my daughter got on the bus for kindergarten, knowing I would see her in just a few hours, I TOTALLY understood why my mom must have shot out of there knowing she wouldn’t see her baby girl for weeks. 🙂

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    • Yes, both my kids clung to me for so long, and one still does! Oh, yes, maybe your mom was just so overwhelmed by emotion and didn’t want to burden you with it. I know that will be quite a hard day for me. So interesting how perspective can shift once we become mothers ourselves.

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  3. Beautiful writing about an important life passage for moms: “,,,I drifted out of that frame and into another.” Yep, been there twice, it does get lonely in the quiet house. I like the way you forgive yourself: “maybe it was just the right amount.” At least you didn’t have him pose IN FRONT OF THE BUS like I did for years! 😉

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  4. Those returning hugs are the best, they never lose their sweetness. They are the only moment when my heart feels whole, even when the returning hug is 30 years old. Peace to you as you enter this new transition, be good to you. You are such a wise momma.

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  5. On my phone, so there’s a higher likelihood of typos… But oh yes, both, always both. My youngest started preschool this year, and splits time between daycare and preschool. It’s hard to fathom the idea of him going to kindergarten next year. Like you, I need that alone time (really need it, I have to work), but want to savor the moments together. You express it so well.

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  6. It’s funny to think that one day we’ll have the first day of college photos and we will SOB looking at the kindergarten photos. We’ll say “He was really just a baby, wasn’t he?”
    YES.
    We don’t have the school bus here. Well, we do but it’s not necessarily the right move until they’re older because our driveway itself is a whole road so we have to go down the driveway anyway.. might as well just go to the school.
    I think that transition is maybe easier in some ways and harder? I didn’t put him on a big bus. I watched him walk right into the school with all his loving teachers and friends.
    Still, though!!

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    • I have been thinking of you during this transition, Tamara! I know it’s quite a milestone for you as well. And OMG we will totally sob our brains out when they go off for college and this “small” moment will seem so minor – and yet, in the moment, it is so not minor. But so good to keep in mind, to remember that they really ARE just babies. Do you ever feel like you forget that with your older one? My daughter seems “so big” and then my son hits her old milestones, and I’m like, OMG she was a baby back then. I really need to remember that even at 9 years old, she still is… Oh, the bus, thank goodness for the bus because honestly I don’t think he would have gotten out of my car 🙂

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