This is a blurb I wrote last spring when Jack graduated from preschool. I didn’t have a blog then, so I had no where to share it and it’s been collecting dust in my computer’s memory. As we get ready to watch him graduate from Kindergarten this week, I feel the same exact emotions, worries, sadness, and pride coming up to the surface. So, I thought I would post it here and now. It is also timely to be reviewing these words as Emily just transitioned into a new classroom at the same daycare Jack attended.
Momaste to all the moms whose little babies are doing graduations this month!
We watched our eldest child graduate this morning.
I imagine you are looking at me like, “Yeah, so?” Well, bear with me; it is a bigger deal than you might expect. At least it is for me.
I scoffed on more than one occasion at all of the graduations that have been invented. It used to be a kid graduated from high school, went to college and graduated from that. Now kids graduate from almost every grade, and a big freaking deal is made of it every year.
This morning as I watched my cherished little boy trot up the aisle in his graduation gown, Pomp and Circumstance blaring, it struck me what a big deal this is.
There is a stretch of highway I drive daily to work, where there are a glut of on and off ramps and merging vehicles. It gives me pause, and makes me realize just how much denial I have to be in to get into a metal contraption and hurtle myself down the asphalt among all the other vehicles.
This panic is similar to how I felt when I put my four-month-old son into the arms of his daycare providers for the first time.
Having done many years of outreach social work, I had been to my share of daycares, many of them so sub standard I would not have left my dead dog there. I was well aware of all of the issues inherent in farming out your child to paid caregivers. I cried every night for an entire month before going back to work, until my face deformed.
Leaving your newborn with someone else to go back to work is the most unnatural thing I’ve done. But I swallowed a big dose of denial and did it.
The daycare Jack attended was amazing. When we walked in, we were greeted not by the scent of diaper pail, but by the fragrance of freshly baked muffins. The baby room was tranquil, immaculate, and they made people take off their shoes before entering. The teachers talked to the babies with tenderness and respect. They never minded that I called daily (sometimes twice) to check on Jack.
He got along just fine. He rolled around with other babies and was taken out in strollers for walks in the sunshine. He played with toys that lit up and made noises. He was cuddled and adored.
Being left alone in a room of eight babies has to be one of my worst nightmares, but these ladies had everything under control. Even if I got out of work early and dropped by unannounced, the babies were happy, busy, clean, cared for.
When Jack started daycare, he was not sitting up on his own yet, let alone walking or talking. He was not eating with a spoon or drinking from a cup, expressing his opinions or problem solving with peers. He was not obsessed with fire trucks, and could not tell you every precise name of construction equipment.
He was an adorable lump of baby flesh, but he did not do very much.
Hell, I was barely out of the primordial soup in my evolution as a mom. We both grew, changed, and learned.
It was hard when he had to go to the next classroom, but I learned this with every transition: it is so much easier for the child than the parent.
I also learned not to judge people before I got to know them. One of his teachers presented as sort of standoffish and I was worried that she would not love on my precious. But Jack formed a fast friendship with this teacher, and because of his affinity for her, she became one of my favorites.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that kids have all kinds of teachers in their lifetimes as students, and that it is actually a positive thing for them to have a variety of personalities to learn from. Jack went through five classrooms during his stay there. In each one, he learned, grew and made friends.
Watching the kids perform their songs today at graduation, I reflected on the classes, teachers, and children Jack knew over the past five years.
I realized early on in the mothering game is that I felt, and still feel, a bittersweet twinge at the end of each day. There is a sense of loss that my child is a day older, that I will never get that day back. But there is also the excitement that he learned new things and that tomorrow he will grow more, present me with new wonders and challenges. I feel that loss and anticipation today.
One of my favorite memories of Jack’s pre-school years is his first field trip. His class traveled to an Audubon Society, and I took time off work to chaperone. Jack was delighted by the idea of going on a bus. I don’t think he even cared where the bus was taking him! When the bus pulled up, he looked at it like it was a rocket to the moon.
The bus was loud, smelly and bumpy. Jack was enthralled. The greatest gift of parenting so far is seeing things through the new eyes of my child. Things like a yellow school bus.
Next year he goes to school in a different neighborhood with different children.
It feels like an end of innocence. He has been sheltered here; life has been easy and fun. He has been treated with respect and love. I don’t know what kindergarten will bring. What will it be like for him to go to school every day? To have homework? To encounter children much older than himself on the school bus and playground? What will he be exposed to? Will he be bullied?
Jack was not pondering these questions as he stripped off his cap and gown.
He was thinking about having a donut and going in the bouncy house with his buddies. There were cookies, a popcorn machine, and a guy making balloon animals.
I watched him race off to have a balloon sword fight with about six other boys and let go of my worries with a sigh.
A piece of me graduated today as a mom. I gave myself a little pat on the back for managing to bring this little human along this far. That is, with a lot of help. It does not escape me for one moment how much help I have had (and needed) in raising this child.
Parenting is a little like playing in traffic– it is crazy and unpredictable and there are going to be times that feel downright dangerous and scary. There is too much over which I have no control. But if you stay in the moment, look both ways, and listen carefully, it will be okay.
On the way home, in the car, he told us, “I liked walking down the aisle in between the parents. I wanted to ask my teacher if I could walk down twice.”
Phew. He’s got a taste for graduation! I think he’s going to do just fine. I don’t think that’s just denial talking.