As the oldest kid in my family, I had never felt small. But there I was, suddenly small in a classroom of other kids just like me. My mom, pregnant with my youngest sister and my 4 year old sister at her side, handed me my lunch and coaxed me forward. I wasn’t entirely scared, not like the kid who was wailing in the coat room, begging their mom not to leave. I felt a little hesitant, but I wasn’t going to be THAT kid. And so I moved forward, carrying my belongings inside the classroom until the teacher could tell me where to put them. My mom stayed for the first 10 minutes as we all sang a song together. And then my mom was gone, along with all the other moms and dads. I was left alone in this big classroom, the strange teacher sitting in front of us, 20 kindergarteners cross-legged on patches of carpet waiting to find out which desk space would be ours.
It was in that year that I learned many lessons. I learned how to count to 100. I learned that there were more shapes than just the triangle, square, and circle. I learned that if my neighbor was talking to me and I wasn’t saying a word, I could still get my name on the chalkboard. And if I argued about it, I would get a check and miss recess. I learned that kindergarten boys liked everything that had to do with the bathroom, and could draw themselves peeing on just about anything (I learned later that they don’t really grow out of this phase and will go into their adult years obsessed with bathroom humor). I learned that while we were all 5 year old kids, we were all very different. This was made apparent by the girl who blinked too much, the boy who seemed to have lost something up his nose, the kid who made machine gun noises as he drew bombs hitting the school, and the girl who always seemed to have sat in water after the lunch bell rang.
And I learned independence.
After the first week of school, being dropped off by my mom was no big thing. I would barely glance at her as I bounded off to be with my friends once reaching my classroom. And I reminisced about this as I stood with my daughter 7 years ago on the first day of kindergarten, surrounded by strangers and waiting to leave her with a teacher I had never met before. She hung by my side, shyly glancing at all the other kids who were about to become her classmates. A few of them she knew, and she glanced up at me cautiously before making her way over to them. But after awhile, she was one of the crowd, joining in the laughter as kids ran all over the yard. The bell rang, we all made our way to the classroom, and soon it was time for the parents to leave. And as I swallowed the lump in my throat, I realized something. This might just be harder on me than it is on her. And for the first time, I realized that my mom might have been feeling the same way as she relinquished care of me over to someone she had never met before for several hours out of the day.
Many of you parents are about to drive your children to a brand new school for the first time, leaving them in the care of someone who is a virtual stranger. It’s not uncommon for there to be tears in this new adventure – YOUR tears. And there are fears as well. Know that you’re not alone in this. Letting your baby grow up so much that they are attending a big kid school is a HUGE step. And it is a bit intimidating. And you may find different worries rattling around in your brain as they embark on this adventure without you. Will they find the bathroom ok when they need to go? Sure they will. Will they eat all their lunch? Probably not (but they won’t starve). Will they make friends? Most likely they will. Will they follow all the rules? Perhaps, perhaps not. This is a growing time for them, and a time for learning more than just the ABCs.
And it’s a growing time for you too. As for your tears? It’s ok. This is a huge step for you. You are learning to let go, and this is the first in a long line of many times you will be loosening those apron strings. But my advice is to save the tears for when they are safely out of sight so that they don’t have to worry about how you’re going to make it without them.
How are you feeling now that your 5 year old is a big kid? Are you scared or nervous? Are you excited? Are you counting down the days until they are out of the house, or dreading the day you have to let them grow up?