I never understood why parents got so emotional about their child starting school until about a week before watching my oldest walk through the door of her Kindergarten classroom. While exciting, it also made me sad and I had trouble figuring out why. I mean, this was the age that I had been dreaming of since the infant years when I was covered in spit up or baby food and cleaning yet another diaper blowout off the carpet. As my daughter acted out and complained of being bored over the summer, I would nod to myself and think, “Yep. She’s ready. I’m beyond ready!” In my mind, Kindergarten was the light at the end of the tunnel when things were supposed to start getting easier for me. I shopped early for school supplies with a spring in my step, the opposite of the veteran moms at Target who were shaking their head at the complexity of this year’s supply list. I bought uniforms right away and devoured every bit of information in the new student packet.
I was eager. I was prepared. And then those feelings changed. I would think to myself, this is my daughter’s last Wednesday to just sit and play all morning or her last Friday of “freedom”. The school schedule would become our schedule. Instead of planning days how wanted to, we were going to plan them around the school calendar. I fought back tears visualizing the moment she would walk through the door of the classroom without me. For me that moment symbolized a rite of passage from co-dependent to independent. Those precious “baby” years of having mom and dad as the center or their universe would be over. I would now be the parent of a school age child who would become less reliant on me, until of course she was off at college and had a bank account balance of $0. Then I’d be her best friend!
I knew I would have to start letting go, to let her make her own choices and her own mistakes while I wasn’t around. I knew that I would not be able to be as present as I was when she was in daycare and in preschool. There would be no daily reports of each activity she did, if she ate her lunch, or what subject matter she enjoyed the most. I’d need to rely on her to tell me more than “fine” when I asked her questions about her day. There would be no casual banter with her teachers inside the classroom before the start of the school day or when I picked her up. I had to start letting go for her sake and for mine. She needed to carve her own path and be her own person, and I needed to give her the breathing room to do that. That was a hard fact to accept and the reason why this parent who couldn’t wait for the life-changing freedom the school years were supposed to provide found herself so sentimental and emotional.
My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher asked parents not to walk to their child into the classroom, but to say their good-byes at the door. To me, it was only appropriate as I would be saying good-bye to my baby and hello to my big girl. The sunglasses I purposely wore shielded the tears that were falling as my husband guided her towards her classroom. I too needed to make a rite of passage and welcome the school years, and the independent thinker my daughter was to become.