Yesterday the purchase of ten pairs of size small boys’ underwear and a bag of socks nearly sent me hurtling over the edge into an emotional episode. Today he got a brand new red backpack and as he wore it to the van, exploding with pride, it was all I could do to prevent myself from plopping down on the sidewalk, face in hands, and weeping until someone came to take me away and lock me up.
In twenty-five days my little boy starts kindergarten. Twenty-five days. Wasn’t it only twenty-five days ago that I was crying, “It’s a baby, it’s a baby!” as that little squalling bundle lay across my chest? The testimonies of thousands of pictures, hundreds of scrapbook pages, years of memories would deny it, but my heart is quite certain that he came to us only a few short moments ago.
“He will still need you, Erin,” consoles my mom, who wept for an hour on my first day of kindergarten. Yes, he will still need me. To get him up in the morning, take him to school. To make his lunches, listen to the tall tales his new friends will spin for him at recess and at snack time. To quiz him on his spelling and correct him when he’s mean to his brother and praise him when he finally writes the n in his name correctly. And even when he no long needs those things, he will still need me, as I need my mom and the knowledge that I am in her prayers and in her heart.
But it seems that all his life my son has been leaving me, from the moment I delivered him, to the day he first toddled away from me and not toward me, to his first day of preschool last fall. And now– the world has determined that at five and a half, my son no longer needs me for those eight hours of the day. He is ready now, so they say, to face the world without me watching over him. But my heart screams that he is my little boy, who still can’t tie his shoes or ride his bike without training wheels or even brush his teeth thoroughly. How can he possibly be ready for school? How will he possibly survive without me there?
My head knows that my son is ready– that he has been ready for months. And I am so excited for him, as I watch him count down the days and share all his big plans and practice writing his alphabet (his idea, not mine) so he’ll be ready for school. He knows his teacher’s name and his school’s name and his parents’ names and his phone number and even though I know he’s nervous he is mostly just excited. He’s going to do so well. I thrived in school, and he will too. I am so happy for him.
My heart and my head do not agree on this subject. Send him out– he is ready says the one. Keep him here– hold him tight says the other. And I finally understand why my mom cried on my first day of school. And why she cried at my graduation, and at the birth of this son who even now is walking away from me. I even understand why she cried during those Hallmark commercials when the son came home and the mother hugged him tight.
The joy my children bring me– it is amazing, and full, and beautiful. I am so proud of the people my boys are becoming. But that joy– that pride– they are mixed with the sadness of knowing that every accomplishment, every job well done, every moment is another step away from me. This is the bittersweetness of life.
My mom tells me that when my sister and I moved out, for awhile she was depressed by the realization that no one needed her anymore. Then one day she woke up and realized no one needed her and that she was free to do her own thing. My dad would undoubtedly say that when she realized Laura and I no longer needed her, my mother immediately found seven hundred other things that needed her attention. And I would say that if she thinks no one needs her, my mom is mistaken. But I think I understand– after twenty years of having children under her roof, the realization that she was free of some of those responsibilities must have felt like a breath of fresh air.
I imagine that someday I will feel the same way.
But for today, well, I’m the one in the boys’ underwear aisle at WalMart, crying my eyes out into a pair of size small Transformers briefs.
My son is off to kindergarten.
In twenty-five days.