Dear New Kindergarten Mom,
This morning, I bundled my boys into the stroller and went out for one last impromptu morning walk. Max will be starting kindergarten next week, and the days spent hanging out in our jammies and meandering to the nearest park or Starbucks are almost over. My best friend texted me a picture of her own 5-year-old a few minutes later, standing in front of his new elementary school. “How did we get here?!” I texted back. It was yesterday that we were pregnant together. Visiting the fire station with toddlers together. Welcoming second babies together. “How did we get here?!”
Well, Mama, I want you to take a break from packing lunches and tucking pencils into binders. Click out of Pinterest for a minute, and stop reading the list about the Top 10 Lessons You Need To Teach Your Kindergartner. Put down the chalkboard frame that you’re making for the perfect first day photo shoot, and listen up. This one is for you.
Kindergarten might be the beginning for our little ones, but it’s a graduation of sorts for us.
How did we get here?
We waited and we worried, reading the BabyCenter emails each week that compared our rapidly growing babies to kiwis and oranges. We mourned losses and said goodbyes to the babies who grew in our hearts, but not our bellies. We labored and breathed and screamed and prayed as our littles made their way into our arms. We ate celebration dinners in hospital beds, or put on our best outfits and brightest smiles as a judge declared us a forever family, or opened our hearts to new dreams as we embraced our partners’ children.
We cradled impossibly small newborn bottoms in the palms of our hands, cut hospital bracelets from tiny ankles and learned to swaddle little limbs into baby burritos. We winced at each bad latch, and exhaled with each great one. We filled bottles and emptied breasts, measured milliliters into droppers and g-tubes. We pumped and we mixed and we forgot to feed ourselves. We fed our babies with love.
We rocked, we paced, we sang. We woke every three hours, or every three minutes. We shushed and we danced and we dozed. We may have spent more time awake than asleep.
We cut grapes into tiny cubes. We cleaned pasta from the carpet and yogurt from their hair. We made sure that the green veggies weren’t touching the orange ones.
We were Batman and Thomas and a dinosaur and a policeman and a princess. We stepped on 47 Legos and built 72 towers and 298 spaceships. We hid in blanket forts and behind closet doors. Sometimes we hid in the bathroom, because it was the only quiet place we could find.
We drove to preschool and playdates. We practiced our goodbyes and perfected our hellos. We caught slippery bodies at swim lessons, and twisted perfect topknots for ballet. We played the tambourine at music class and sang the “Hello, friend” song at Mommy and Me 341 times.
We held chubby little arms and legs tight as the doctor gave each shot. We counted ounces and inches and celebrated each step. We met with speech therapists and occupational therapists and oncologists and radiologists. We elbowed our way down paths that we never thought would rise up to greet us. We fought fear and doubt and guilt. We woke up each day, and put one foot in front of the other.
We yelled at our partners and cried to our mothers and fell into the arms of the friends who became our family. We learned to let other grown-ups love our kids, and struggled to accept a night out or a lasagna or a hug. Or a mimosa.
We worried about TV time and Vitamin D and developmental stages and hearing tests. We celebrated birthdays and did the potty dance and doled out stickers and ultimatums.
We kept going. We got better at it. We surprised ourselves.
We’ve been exhausted, and fed up, and overwhelmed, and overjoyed. We’ve cheered for first words and first steps and first date nights in months. We’ve fallen asleep during Dumbo and memorized Goodnight Moon and Horton Hears A Who.
We’ve bargained with God over stitches and lab tests and “routine” operations. We’ve soothed bad dreams and inspired bigger ones.
We’ve stepped on 4,724 Goldfish crackers and 3,193 Cheerios.
We’ve kissed scrapes and cheeks and noses. We’ve bathed squirmy bodies and cut tiny bangs. We’ve whispered I love yous against giggling bodies. We’ve hugged and we’ve helped and we’ve explained. We’ve answered 17,000 whys and why nots.
We’ve made it.
They’ve made it.
There will be thousands of firsts that follow this one. Our jobs aren’t even close to being done. But on this first day, for the hours that stretch between squeezing his little hand goodbye and welcoming him back to the arms that he began in, be gentle with yourself.
In your heart of hearts, you know that he’s ready.
But I’m here to tell you that you are, too.
You might think this first day is all about him, friend. But it’s also about you.
How did we get here?
You rocked and you fed and you soothed and you worried and you taught and you cuddled and you counted the nap time minutes and added up the ounces and marked the passage of time with pictures and gasps and tears.
So as that brave, crazy kindergarten teacher ushers you out tomorrow and closes the door behind you, be proud.
You did it. We did it.
That classroom of amazing, brilliant, imaginative, loving, self-sufficient (well, sort of), hilarious, unpredictable, completely capable little people? We made them that way. So before you walk away to worry about all of the first days to come and the homework and the life lessons and the setbacks and the TV time and the reward charts… come find me on the playground.
I’ll be looking for you.
Let me be the first one to tell you “Good job, Mama. You survived. You watched as your heart grew outside of your body, and then you prepared him to greet the world alone. He is ready, because when they placed him in your arms, you were.” For all of the times that we’ve told them “good job,” and “great listening,” and “you’re so brave,” and “I’m so proud of you,” not once did we say those things to ourselves. So on that very first day of school, as you take one last look over your shoulder to make sure that your little one is safely tucked into her classroom, and you wipe away the tears as you climb back into your (suddenly very quiet) car, remember this.
You did it. You are so brave. I am so proud of you.
Just look how much you’ve grown.
Happy graduation, Mama.
A Kindergarten Mom, bawling her eyes out in the car parked next to yours
I was honored to share this essay on The Huffington Post last week, and I’ve been so touched by the tremendous response from parents embracing their own “first days”. Thinking of all of you, as you begin your school year with a healthy mix of excitement and expectation. Happy “graduation”, friends!
Photo by Traci Bianchi---here---