I was thinking long and hard about what to write about this week, and the only thought that came into my brain was back-to-school. I tend to write about the happenings of my life, and the return to September, and now October, routines have been at the forefront lately, as I’m sure they have been for many of you.
This year was a bit different for us, as it was the first year of “nothing new.” We didn’t move, or switch schools, or have my work schedule change. The logistics of our life look essentially the same as they did last school year, so we knew what to expect from a timing perspective. My son entered grade three, and my daughter started into Senior Kindergarten. In Ontario, the Kindergarten program is two years long, and starts the year that a child turns four years of age. Back in 2014, the Provincial government rolled out full-day Kindergarten to replace half-day and alternate-day programs, so my daughter began full-time school last year, at age four. It was rocky.
Not having been a daycare kid (my husband and I have managed to work opposite hours so that one of us could always be home with our kids), she did two years in a three-mornings-per-week Preschool, to get her prepared for Kindergarten and used to the idea of being away from home, and most notably, away from me. Her and I have a special bond and she’s a mama’s girl through and through. Last year, all year long, even into June, she would be teary at school dropoff. “Mom, I don’t want to go to school, I just want to be home with you.” Oh, how she broke my heart.
We tried everything- special necklaces, “kissing hands,” pictures from home, notes in her backpack, meetings with the teachers. We were always told that her days at school were happy and settled, and she was always all smiles at pickup time; but more often than not, she would cry at dropoff. I would pull myself away from the school gate each morning and stand out of sight, watching her cry and wipe the fog from her little glasses, and I would cry too. I would walk back home alone and feel like a monster for the better part of the morning. “How was your day, sweetheart?” I would ask at pickup, “Great!” She would exclaim, oblivious to the torment that she’d put her mother through yet again. The daily text thread to my husband read something like this:
Me: Tears again. I’m dying. This is THE WORST.
Him: She’s okay hon, she’ll get through it.
Me: Why are we doing this to her? She’s only four! Four year-olds should be with their mamas. It’s nature!!!
Him: Her days are good, it’s just the first few minutes. She’ll be okay.
Me: I am the worst mother. My HEART IS BREAKING. Sob…..
Okay, so I have a touch of drama up my sleeve. But honestly, watching your child cry while knowing that you can’t help them, is quite possibly the world’s worst feeling. If you’ve never been through this with your children, you may not understand what I’m talking about, and you probably don’t think this is quite the big deal I’m making it out to be. But when you’re in it, let me tell you that it’s a very big deal. I’m a bit of an attachment-parent, kind of on the hippie side of the scale- my kids regularly sleep in our bed, I nursed them both into toddlerhood, and I was a regular baby-wearer, so this child-away-from-me stage of life does not feel natural or normal to me. We have very carefully constructed our life to have me closer to our kids. This school-aged-transition was as hard on me as it was on her.
Fast forward to this year, and I was expecting more of the same from her. Through the Summer she spoke about how she was going to miss me when she started school and flashbacks of dropoff haunted me. And we have had more than a few tears over the past few weeks, but I’m happy to report, we’re on a streak of six consecutive cry-free dropoffs. She’s grown and matured, she’s gained independence, she’s built confidence, and I can see a different kid when I send her into the playground in the mornings. She wants to be there. The reluctance to let go of my hand is lessening, the quivering lip is all but gone, and the vulnerability of her foggy glasses has disappeared. Maybe she’s ready. Maybe I’m ready. I’m not sure how it happened, but we’ve turned the page, and my baby grew up.