I’ve always firmly believed that one cannot truly know the “type” of parent one will be or the exact values one will strive for in parenting until one actually becomes a parent. We all have preconceived notions, of course, but something different is hatched in your mind and heart when you hold your child in your arms for the first time and really connect to your hopes and dreams for that person. It’s a pretty difficult feeling to describe and a completely revolutionary one to experience.
When I became a Mom, it became clear to me that the number one value system I wanted desperately to instill in my children revolved around kindness, self-love, and independence. I think the thing that would make me the most proud of my children, and of myself as a parent, is to see them out in the world one day, making brave and solid decision on their own and navigating their own lives…without me. Although it’s a bit of a stretch (and hella emotional), I would argue that sending a child to elementary school for the first time, is that very first sliver-of-an-example of independence from the “nest”. Marlowe started Kindergarten three days ago, and it has definitely been a huge step in my life as a Mom. And it’s been a little traumatizing, especially because it hasn’t been traumatizing AT ALL for her. Do these two concepts seem completely at odds with each other? Yes, yes they do. As do many emotions in the motherhood space, actually. So I figured I would unpack it and share a bit about how I’m feeling this week.
First of all, the first day of school was a big surprise to me. I had prepared to the max: packed everything the night before, labeled extra clothes in a bag, color coordinated everything, and asked around town for any information about the school, drop-off, pickup, and teachers. For a newbie, I felt ultra prepared, and as a Type A person, this made me feel GREAT. As I lay in bed the night before the first day, I played out the next morning in my mind– what I would feed the kids for breakfast, what I would wear, what she would wear, the photo we would take outside our new home, which route we’d take to school, and how I’d hug and kiss her as I left her at her cubby in her classroom. The entire morning, everything went exactly as I had planned. I was feeling really level emotionally, and not at all on the brink of tears. In fact, I thought to myself “Wow! I’m surprising myself here! We are all doing great!”
Kyle and I walked her up the stairs in to the school foyer, and there were about ten volunteer moms and teachers waiting there. They told me they’d take it from here. And just like that, the most precious part of my plan, my “goodbye” was turned in to something totally different. I knelt, knowing that I had to say goodbye for the first/last/whatever time to my five year old and send her in to this big, new place– and that I had to do it in front of all these people I didn’t know. I felt so anxious and exposed, and so stupid for expecting my alternate fantasy plan to happen. It wasn’t these people’s fault, of course, but I felt hot tears spring to my eyes and it took everything in my power to give Marlowe a tight squeeze and a smile, and watch her turn to walk happily away before I walked quickly outside and sobbed. Kyle was really nice about it and suggested we try to go down to her room to have a “redo goodbye” I actually laughed and reminded him that the last thing our daughter needed was for me to be That Mom, who disregards school rules because she is an emotional mess. LOL. No, this breakdown was all about ME, and really had nothing to do with how she was feeling. In reality, she was doing great! She hadn’t even looked back at us once and she skipped down the stairs to her classroom.
While we walked home I thought a lot about the conflict of the two things I was feeling all at once: the pain of the next “phase” of life as a parent, and the swelling pride that my child is showing signs of the type of independence I have hoped for her all her life. I suddenly realized how easy it is as parents to get in our own way when we reach these crossroads. Needing something for ourselves, while wanted something for our kids. I definitely don’t have the answer for this, or any other examples besides my own life as a Mom (obviously), but it has inspired me this week to remove more of my own judgements when I see conflicting behavior in parents I encounter. My own conflicts on the first day of school were internal, but they very well might not have been. I can see how we can need something for ourselves, and convince ourselves that it’s our children’s need instead.
When I picked her up from school, I was expecting her to be relieved to see us, maybe even emotional. I expected to see some kind of flicker on her little face that told me she had felt the length of the day in a new place and been so happy to return home. Instead, she emerged flanked by two older kids, mid conversation. She glanced at me and flashed me the brightest, happiest smile, and continued walking with her friends up the sidewalk from me all the way home. This time, I watched in awe and with envy. I remembered my anxious youth, the different promises I would need to make to myself, the visible and invisible talismans, the routines– just to make it through the day at school. And this time the tears came from relief. I’m so proud of my girl for being exactly who she is, and having her own story– separate from mine. I’m grateful for her confidence and independence, and while it stings a little to be an accessory now to her bigger and bolder life– I know she knows I’m always her touchstone right her waiting in case there’s a bad day.
I would love to hear your experiences with your children starting kindergarten, and the mix of emotions! Please share in the Comments below.