So I am sitting outside my son’s new preschool waiting for him. I have been waiting for my son for years, sitting in waiting rooms as he finishes therapy. But this is different. This is school.
When I left him this morning, he clung to my leg asking, or rather pleading, “Mommie stay?”
I said goodbye and then spied through the window. I could see his little body shaking as he cried sitting for morning meeting, his lips quivering.
He was soon fine. I, however, was crushed.
I did not expect this. He has been going to a program for a year and a half where I had been dropping him off with relatively few problems. Sometimes he cried, but most of the time it seemed he would almost give me a see-ya-mom- don’t-let-door-hit-ya-on-the-way-out kind of glance.
And I was happy for the ease of it, happy that he liked where I was bringing him, happy that I could enjoy my down time without worrying about him.
Well the not worrying about him part is over.
I am a mess. I know it would be concerning if he were very comfortable at his new school after only six days. I remind myself that it is developmentally appropriate for him to have this kind of separation anxiety, that is what the books and experts say. But what they don’t say is how awful it is when you willingly leave your child in someone else’s care as he is screaming for you and peeling him off your leg as you walk out the door, his body heaving.
As I get him dressed in the morning, he fights putting on his shoes, an epic battle brewing, saying, “No school!”
I am torn about sending my baby off to something he does not like and knowing it will be good for him. There will be plenty of things in life he will have to do that he will not like, math tests, piano practice, homework, but at 3?
To be honest, though, how do I know if he likes it or not?
When at camp or college and you call your folks, home sick, desperate, your parents do not then see when you gather yourself up and head down the hall and plop on someone’s couch and make a friend. They only hear the longing.
I hear that he is soon fine after I leave him and I am relieved.
But then I think he is not legally mandated to attend school until he is 6. I could take him out and travel to the Grand Canyon on a massive road trip teaching him about geography and history and then heading to South America and eventually Australia and then around the world so some day he could tell the story of his interesting but off-beat childhood.
Clearly it is me, not him, who is the most anxious. I was in charge before. Now, he goes to school every day for another 15 years at least. And it seems besides where he attends, I have no say in the matter. I have no say if he has friends, if he is comfortable, if the teacher is good, if the girl he wants to go to prom with says yes, if he is picked on, or even worse, if he is the one who is mean.
I know I have control in how I parent him, what I teach him, show him. But he is heading out into this school world without me by his side. And I know I am getting way ahead of myself, but he will eventually step out into the whole world away from me and I feel the tear. I grew him in my body. We are intertwined and now he is, with little steps that seem bigger to me each and every day, creating his own person, his own identity. That is the goal of parenting, to have him be self sufficient, to not need me. But what if I still need him?
The ironic thing is I couldn’t wait to have all of this “free” time. I was going to work out, write, see friends and finally keep a tidy house. Instead, I am a worried mess sitting outside his school in my car planning our mule ride down the Grand Canyon.
I watch him through the window, and though the morning started with tears, I see him sitting and playing, just like all of the other kids. I see him talking during morning meeting, pointing to kids’ pictures on the wall, knowing their names. I glimpsed that they would become his friends. He was invited to a classmate’s birthday party.
When I pick him up he comes racing through the doors into my arms, big smile on his face, almost knocking me to the ground and I know that in those three hours that we were apart that he was fine and not fine and everything in between, and every day he will be more fine than not fine, just like his mommy.
Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.