First Day of School: The First of Many Parenting Heartaches.
When you’re sitting on the hospital bed holding your newborn, the world seems almost perfect. The scent of the precious soul you just brought into the world is nearly enough to make one forget the obstacles that lie ahead.
I often think back to those moments in the hospital. Despite being completely drained and high on painkillers, I felt blessed, obviously. But also, overwhelmed, hopeful and complete all at once.
No one warns you about the challenging parts of the parenting package. The milestones that are happy and hard, exciting and daunting. Times you should be hash tagging #blessed, #happy, #excited when inside you feel a tad of remorse as your little bundle spreads their wings.
One of these moments came last week when I dropped off my two-year-old for her first day of camp. She has two older siblings, so you’d think this would be no big deal. But as we approached the carpool line the nerves began to build up. Looking at my daughter in the rearview mirror, I anticipated that she, too, felt a bit of what I was feeling. If she did, my girl sure didn’t show it.
Arriving at the school door, her older sister grabbed her hand and proudly led her to her classroom for the next few weeks. And while I thought this was cute, a part of me also felt 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. But as she waltzed right in, admiring everything from the toys to the kids to the neat little art project the teacher carefully prepared for the tiny people about to begin their life away from mommy, there was none of that. Instead, She simply turned around and said “bye,” waving her precious little hand as a a wide, excited smile spread across her face.
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- but in what proved to be a blessing in disguise, my five-year-old impatiently grabbed my hand and pulled me to take her to her class. She, too, forgot my presence at the sight of her friends.
Heading back to the car a bit downtrodden, I of course peeked to see how my little one was doing. Lo and behold she was sitting alone on a chair looking somewhat down, comforted by the blankie we had brought from home.
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 somewhat desperate. “A little” was the response, hesitation in her voice, apparently activating the teacher’s “helicopter mom” radar.
I rushed to my sweet child, put her on my lap, squeezed her tight and wiped the non-existent tears off her face. OK, so 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 exactly easy having a toddler at home with a newborn. But now I missed negotiating over how many more 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.
I guess 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 things for sure, I have never been so excited to pick up carpool, the way I was that day.