I wanted to write something in honor of my son’s first day of kindergarten, something a little wispy, a little powerful, a trail of truth that he could one day trace back into the purple folds of my heart. But I just… didn’t. He went, I watched, and we both got on with it. A few tears (mine) and a lot of nervous energy (both), but in the end, it was sunny Monday in August. He was impossibly small.
Dramatic, right? A kid starting his compulsory education isn’t exactly akin to a violent severing or a sacrifice made through gritted teeth. And yet.
There are things that I know and things that I feel. And those things? They aren’t always the same.
I know that Henry will still be small for several more years and will live in my heart as a floppy-haired 5-year-old forever. But there is something so inherently magical about a boy in his tiny boyhood. The loud, loose laughter. The sloppy, sticky-cheeked kisses. The constant wonder.
When my daughter started kindergarten five years ago, mommy-blogging wasn’t a thing the way it is now, but one of the preschool moms shared an appropriately weepy post with me. There was a line that has stuck with me this lifetime that my oldest has been in elementary school, something about a little girl no longer having the time to sit on a stoop and watch an ant crawl along the cracks in the sidewalk.
(I found that post today, by the way. I searched “no longer able to watch an ant crawl” and it came right up! The internet is a glorious place sometimes… of course, Henry already knows that. I once watched him voice-search “Dragon shows for little boys” on our smart TV because he was in the mood for something new. The simultaneous brilliance and innocence of that moment just about tore my heart in half. Our children, they will learn so much more about technology than we ever will. Soon, fast.)
I’m sad for Henry to reach the end of having infinite afternoons to watch ants crawl along cracks in the sidewalk, the end of lazy mornings and naked playtime and zero obligations to anyone or anything. I'll miss Henry being exactly who he is with no influence from the world outside of our home.
I know that one of our core roles as parents is to raise independent children who can navigate this world with confidence and purpose. But it doesn't make his journey away form me any less difficult to process. There’s this massive, blistering part of me that feeds off of how much my teeny children have needed me. Because there is this massive, gaping part of me that has needed them more than I ever thought possible.
I know that the alternative to my child growing up is my child not growing up and that, in some ways, this ostentatious mourning is a gross insensitivity to those suffering that unspeakable loss.
With two weeks of kindergarten under his belt, Henry spontaneously suggested we have dinner together, just the two of us.
“Great idea!” I said. “It’s a date.”
“What’s a date?” he asked, this tiny boy who knows nothing yet of romantic love or longing. I chose my words with care.
“It’s special time you set aside to spend with someone you really care about.”
Saturday rolled around, and Henry and I said goodbye to my husband and the girls as they chatted about where they should get carry-out from. Henry picked me a dandelion and we feasted on personal pan pizzas and ice cream with sprinkles. We played a little tic tac toe, really talked.
“It was my first date with you.” I said to his giant eyes in my rear-view mirror.
“Your first date with your little son.” Henry chuckled to himself at the absurd joy of it. It was a sunny day in September. He was impossibly small.
The start of kindergarten was the end to something, yes. My little son and I – we will have more beginnings and more endings. But whatever changes lie ahead, we will not be defined by the pieces of us that scatter but, rather, by the grace and tenderness with which we process change. I tried to write about that first kindergarten dropoff, the day I gave my Henry to the world, but it’s never so simple, is it? So finite? This same resolute juxtaposition will follow us always:
He was ready.
I let him go anyway.