First Day of School: The First of Many Parenting Heartaches.
When you’re sitting on the hospital bed holding your precious newborn, the world seems perfect. No one warns you about the challenging parenting moments that lie ahead. The milestones that are happy and hard, exciting and daunting.
One of these moments came last week when my two-year-old started school. As we neared the carpool line, my nerves intensified, and I looked back to see if my daughter was feeling what I was feeling. If she was, it sure didn't show.
Arriving at the school door, her older sister proudly grabbed her hand and led her to the classroom. Cute as it was, I felt slightly robbed of my duty.
I had wanted her to be independent. I wanted her to fall asleep on her own and be potty trained as soon as possible. I wanted her to learn to eat with a fork and use her words. I wanted her to get dressed without my help and buckle the car seat without my having to climb in.
Yet when I dropped her off that first day, I craved so badly for her to show some vulnerability. Perhaps a tiny tear or a short cling to my leg. Instead, she waltzed right in, admiring everything from the toys to the kids to the neat little art project prepared by the teacher. Then, she smiled and said “bye,” waving her precious little hand and shattering my heart into a million pieces.
I wanted to wrap her up in my arms, let her know how much I’d miss her, how hard this moment was for me — as opposed to clearly carefree for her. Luckily, my five-year-old whisked me away to her classroom. She, too, forgot my presence at the sight of her friends.
Heading back to the car downtrodden, I peeked to see how my little one was doing. Lo and behold, she was sitting alone on a chair, looking down and snuggling her blankie.
I marched in like a knight in shining armor, ready to save the day. Here was the moment I was waiting for. The reason for my existence. “Was she upset? Did she cry? She asked for me, right?” I implored the teacher, clearly desperate. “A little,” was the teacher's response. This wasn't her first time dealing with a helicopter mom.
I rushed to my sweet child, put her on my lap, squeezed her tight, and wiped the non-existent tears off her face. It wasn’t the dramatic departure I expected. But it was something to show that she, too, would miss me.
Returning to an empty house didn’t make it any easier. I had waited for this moment for weeks. It wasn’t easy having a toddler at home with a newborn. But now I missed negotiating over how many books we would read, trying to get her dressed for the fifth time that day, and cleaning up the yogurt from the counter, the chair, her hair, and pretty much every corner of the house.
I told myself to be happy. She was strong, independent and confident. I told myself to be proud of the little person I raised. But I also wondered how many more moments like this lay ahead. I thought about how my mom sobbed at my high school graduation. And then I almost started sobbing myself, imagining how she felt the day I boarded a plane to get married and start a new life abroad.
We can’t control the situations and opportunities our children will choose and chase. But we can marvel at the people they are growing up to be and feel blessed to see it happen.
One thing is for sure: I have never been so excited to pick up carpool, the way I was that day.