It’s Tuesday, we’re on our way to H’s first day of kindergarten, and I’m about to make my biggest mom mistake yet. It will happen at exactly 12:05 PM, but at 11:55 AM, I’m still blissfully unaware.
That’s why I’m smiling as I watch H through the rearview mirror. He sits stoically in his booster seat, slowly zipping and unzipping the front pocket of his flashing Buzz Lightyear backpack. “Shouldn’t we bring all my school suppwhys?” he asks. “What if I need my crayons or my cwipboard?”
“You won’t need school supplies today, buddy,” I say lightly. “Mrs. M just wants to meet you and your classmates. She’ll also show you some pictures and ask you some questions, so just tell her what you’re thinking, ok? I’ll be right there with you. There’s nothing to worry about.”
H nods and sits back, humming happily. Meanwhile, I prepare to cross my 10th 36x37assignment—Take My Son to Kindergarten—off the list.
We’re good, I think. We’re ready. Let’s go launch this kid’s education.
In our neighborhood, kindergarteners have something called “staggered start.” Over the next three days, H’s teacher will meet for an hour with five students at a time to screen and assess their abilities. Then she’ll welcome back her whole class on Friday to officially kick off the school year.
Many of the moms I know hate the staggered start, but I don’t exactly know why. I like the idea of easing kids into new situations. And I’m really looking forward to watching H explore his new surroundings.
So I park, H puts on his backpack, and we walk hand-in-hand toward the entrance. We stop to take a few “capture the moment!” photographs, then hustle our way to his classroom.
Four other moms and dads stand outside the classroom doorway. We introduce our kids brightly then laugh as they eye each other skeptically. When Mrs. M arrives, she introduces herself to each child. Then she looks at her watch and says, “Oops! 12:05! Come on in, kids. Parents, we’ll see you back here at 1:20.”
I’m stunned. Did she just tell the adults to leave?
The other parents start to dole out their goodbyes. A few have already turned to leave, blowing kisses over their shoulders. Meanwhile, H tugs my hand and smiles. “Come on, Mama!” he says. “Come wif me! I want to see what’s inside my cwassroom!”
I blink in disbelief. They’re all leaving? Wait! They’re all leaving!
I drop to my knees so H and I are face to face. “H, I’m so sorry!” I say. “I misunderstood. I…I thought I’d be coming in with you today, but I guess I’m not supposed to.”
H is puzzled. “You have to weave?”
“I have to leave!” I nod. “But I’ll be right here waiting for you when class is over. I promise.”
He drops his head against my chest and starts to cry. I can feel his tiny five-year-old self heaving gasps of sobby air. And all I can think is IDIOT! IDIOT! over and over again. The look on H’s face tells me he feels like I’ve lied to him. Which of course I have. Accidentally. For about five weeks. And now I don’t know what else to do but wipe away his tears and just hug him all over again.
“Honey, you’ll be fine! You’ll be great!” I say. “I’ll meet you right here in an hour. You can tell me all about the kids in your class. Ok? Ok? I promise things will be fine.”
I just keep talking and talking until he stands up and marches determinedly into his classroom.
So I slog my way out to the car and drive to Panera Bread Company. I order my bagel in a daze then slide distractedly into a booth. Meanwhile, my internal monologue continues with the verbal lashing of a lifetime. I feel like that old Chris Farley skit on Saturday Night Live, where he’d smack his hand against his head, muttering, “STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!” Now I know exactly how he felt. I should just go live in a van down by the river.
The next thing I know, I’m driving back to the school with 45 minutes still on the clock. I just can’t bear to be away. With a screw up this big, the least I can do is make sure I’m within shouting distance, in case H decides to make a break for it.
What a long 45 minutes. It feels like penance, if you want to know the truth.
At exactly 1:15, I sprint for the classroom. And at exactly 1:20, Mrs. M opens the door. My H scans the crowd for my face, then makes a flying leap into my arms. “It was great, Mama!” he shouts. “It was just like you said!”
His teacher approaches us then and pats H’s back. “He’s soooooo smart!” she whispers. “I think H is going to have a great year in kindergarten.”
There’s an upside to this monumental failure. I may be reaching, but honestly, I need to come up with something to shake off this long wave of guilt. So here it is, my justification:
One: H had about three minutes of panic—panic I’d hoped to help him avoid, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things, three minutes is not so long. It could have been a different scenario altogether. He could have, and would have, spent weeks worrying about this day if he’d known I wouldn’t be there with him. Instead, he woke up this morning without worry. He played happily until the moment we hopped in the car. He was comfortable on the drive to school and on the walk through the halls to the classroom. It was the easiest first day in history.
Two: I had about 1 hour and 15 minutes of panic. But I skipped all the pre-first-day things I was worried about. The incandescent nostalgia, the last-minute reminder about proper in-class behavior, the nervous energy (mine, not his)—I missed it all. I’m totally fine with that.
On Friday, we’ll return for H’s first full session. He’s excited. He can’t wait to go back. That’s thrilling.
As for me, I’m thinking about how parenthood serves up the constant juxtaposition of wanting to usher our children into the world while keeping them by our sides. There’s so much excitement and anxiety and hope and second guessing entwined in this prolonged experience. I spend as much time sorting through that as I do in guiding my two boys.
Meanwhile, they just keep growing. It happens so fast. And I’m doing my haphazard best. I make up for my mistakes by simply trying harder, being more careful, and loving them even more fiercely.
And there it is. Blazing and exposed. That incandescent nostalgia after all.
~*~ Find me on Twitter @37×37
~*~Visit the 36×37 facebook page