Last year at this time, I was gearing up for my first-born to head off to Kindergarten. I was starting to have extreme anxiety over reaching this milestone. I had spent the last five years of my life raising him, and now I was releasing him to the world, relinquishing control over what he would be experiencing on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong—there were times when he was a baby and crying for hours on end when I wished he would just grow up and go to school; and when he was a toddler having yet another tantrum, there were moments when I wished he would just be old enough to be in Kindergarten. But now, when it actually came time to set him free, I didn’t want to let go.
I had so many concerns about his well-being during those six hours apart every day:
Was he going to make friends? If he did, would he choose nice kids to hang out with? Up until that point, I had influenced the children he played with—it was usually kids whose moms I liked and who shared my values.
Was he going to be safe? What was going to happen if he decided to try those big monkey bars and fell without me there to catch him? Had I taught him enough about strangers? Did he know he shouldn’t go with anyone that wasn’t an adult he knew?
Was he going to be a good student? I often wondered how the boy was going to sit for an extended time, listen, and follow the rules; after all, at home he struggled just to sit still while watching TV and often “forgot” that I had asked him to do something.
However, once I dropped him off that first day and each day that followed in the first couple of weeks, my anxious feelings slowly began to diminish. In fact, by late fall, the worrying thoughts turned into feelings of extreme pride. I loved hearing about what he did each day (Note: this wasn’t without some prying and selective questioning) and seeing what schoolwork or artwork he produced. I enjoyed experiencing all the firsts as a parent of a school-aged child: the first student-led conference, the first Christmas concert, the first sports day, etc.
With that said, the year didn’t come without a few tears and uncomfortable moments for both of us. There was a day early on when he came home upset and teary-eyed because one of the boys he really liked said he wasn’t allowed to play with him. On another day, I was called in to meet the teacher and told there were issues between my child and another student in the class, which resulted in me crying myself to sleep that night. And finally, there was the extreme concern I felt sending him on his first field trip (and every subsequent field trip thereafter, for that matter). So many times I repeated, “Son, what is the most important thing to remember when you go on a field trip? Listen and stay with your group.” Yes, Nemo’s dad and I have a bit in common.
But guess what?! Not only did he survive all of these moments and everything else the first year entailed (no, he did not fall off those pesky monkey bars)—he flourished because of it…and so did I, for that matter. We both made new friends, learned new routines, and had a lot of fun along the way. As a mother, I grew in my ability to let go (well, sort of) and be open to new experiences. And, while I know not everyone has the same experience in starting school (I am already preparing myself for when my emotional daughter starts and is the extra clingy child crying for days on end), there is no doubt that it is an exciting time in the life of a family.
So, if your little one is off to their very first day of school soon, just know that you are not alone in your feelings of anxiety and sadness and everything in between. But also know that the year ahead may just be one of your best years yet as a parent.