How My Cheers for Kindergarten Turned Into Tears for Kindergarten

Family Matters on 07.15.11
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The invasion of the back-to-school ads on television and in stores kicked into high gear this week. While it has always driven me nuts that the bombardment of pencils and backpacks starts when it feels like summer is just getting started (even though I know there are people out there who really do start shopping now), there has never really been a reason for me to care. My kids have been in year-round daycare so the shift from summer to the school-year has never been a big deal. But this year the ads are really getting to me for some reason. My firstborn also happens to be heading off to kindergarten in September. Might there be a connection between the two? I hate to admit it, but most definitely.

Longing for Kindergarten to Start

My son's first day of kindergarten is one of those things I've envisioned since he was in the womb, just like his first birthday, graduations from high school and college and wedding day. It's hard not to dream up what your baby's life will be like, and the first day of kindergarten is one of those major milestones that make the cut when you're doing so. I wouldn't say now that it seems like just yesterday that he was born. It's been a long and tiring five years. But back then it seemed like kindergarten was light-years away, and now it is less than two months away.

I have to admit that for the past few years I have been one of those moms who couldn't wait for my son to reach kindergarten so that I could stop paying all those daycare costs! While other friends talk about it with a sense of sadness, I've been saying "Hip, hip, hooray!" My son has also been very excited for the past few years to go to his new school which is right down the street from our house and which we drive by multiple times a day. His excitement however has stemmed from the fact that the local Little League is always playing on the school's fields, and therefore he thinks it's the "baseball school". When we headed off to orientation in June I was a little bit worried about what his reaction would be once he realized that the school wasn't solely dedicated to playing baseball, but we were both excited.

What I wasn't expecting was the tears. And let's just say they weren't from him. We both listened intently to the principal's speech, happily checked out the art room, library, and cafeteria, and excitedly headed out to the playground (which we had made several trips to on our own already) for playing and popsicles. But then it came time for the school bus ride. My son started to cower a little, and when I asked why he told me he wanted to know where they were going on the bus. We asked the principal who told us they were just going around the block which offered him some relief. He found one of his friends who also felt a little nervous, and they boarded the bus together to find their seats. As they waved out the window while I took their picture, I found myself fighting back the tears (and not very well). In fact just writing this, I find myself fighting back the tears. And I'm not the type who cries at much.

Letting Go

I would not say that I am sad that my son is five or really ready to expand his schooling. I am excited for him to learn new things, make new friends, and become more confident. But even though he will be in a safe and nurturing environment, it brings a new level of independence which both he and I felt when it was time to get on that bus. My husband and I will no longer be bringing him to his little school each day and making sure he is settled in before we leave. That bus will now be taking him away from us each day. He will be boarding it at the end of our driveway, waving out the window, and heading to a much bigger school with bigger kids and a lot more of them. And there will be many teachers and kids that he doesn't know yet, and that he likely won't get to know in his first year or two at the school. He's going to have to figure out how to function without us and outside of the small preschool environment he is used to. A year ago, I couldn't get him to let go of my leg when I dropped him off and now he's going out into the world on his own so to speak.

This new beginning is also an end. It is the end of the baby and toddler stage that I so looked forward to when my kids were nothing more than a vision in my mind. Luckily for my sake he has a little sister who is still in that stage. But starting kindergarten is the beginning of a 13 year goal that ends with him graduating from high school and heading out into the "real world" on his own. It is the beginning of him learning how to depend on me less. Something that in many ways I look forward to, but that also means he is getting closer to making his own decisions and spreading his wings which may eventually take him far away from me. It is a loss of control for me which is something I'm not so keen on.

Preparing for this New Chapter of Life

As a result, I think I've been in a bit of denial, and avoiding those back-to-school ads is just one way to put off letting my first baby take another big step out on his own. I was actually starting to worry that my own denial might make my son ill-prepared for school. I'm not concerned about the actual academic part of it, but the transition of him to this new place and it's not fair of me to set him off on the wrong foot because of my own denial about letting him grow into this new stage of life.

Luckily, according to School Family's list of seventeen things you should do to prep your child for kindergarten, I've actually been doing a lot of things right without even realizing it. As mentioned already, we've been driving by the school on a regular basis, we've taken advantage of attending open houses at the school, and we've visited the school to play on the playground and get him familiar with being there. As my son is in camp all summer, he's been continuing on some of his academic work and we spend time with him working on letters and numbers too so that he doesn't lapse in what he's learned so far in preschool. And I'm going to have to let it go and succumb to back to school shopping sometime in the near future.

Ultimately, I know that my son will do fine and any challenges he faces we will work through. It's not always easy to see our children grow up and reach these milestones, and while I may somewhat surprisingly mourn the loss of his dependence on me, I am also looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him and to watch him flourish and grow into the school-aged child, high school graduate, and adult that I envisioned so many years ago. There may just be a few more tears than I expected along the way.

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