I asked him four times if he was sure. I wasn't trying to harass him but I wanted to be certain I had given him every opportunity to change his mind. Or, to speak it in case he was holding back. We hadn't really talked about exactly how it would go this time and I just wanted to be positive we weren't rushing it. After the fourth time I asked, he looked me dead in the eye and said in a clear, calm voice, "Mommy, I'm SURE. I will be fine. I know where to go and I listened when they told me what to do."
And that's how it came to be that my oldest baby walked himself into school yesterday on his first full day of Kindergarten.
He climbed out of his buckle, gave me a hug and rarely-offered kiss, hopped out of the car -- slamming the door for good measure -- and then began his retreat into the building with his beloved Pokemon backpack bouncing along behind him. About halfway there he turned around mid-stride and gave me a quick wave as he flashed his best smile. I would like to think it's because he was just wanting to see me one more time but it's probably more accurate to assume that he knew I needed him to do that. I think it was for me, not him.
And then the principal held the door open for him and he disappeared inside.
I spent the next 15 minutes, as I drove to work, silently congratulating us on how prepared and ready he seems to be for this journey. Oh, and also trying to beat back the tears that seem perched just on the edge as he takes this starting Kindergarten thing in total stride.
He had an abbreviated day last week and Mark and I went in with him, waiting in the gym with the other 399 kids who obediently grouped themselves by teacher. He sat on a bench along the wall with his buddy, Josh, and they goofed around seemingly oblivious to the fact that their parents were lurking, watching expectantly, to see if they were "alright." They were fine. That day he barely looked back as his teacher entered the gym and ushered them to their classroom at the bell. That should have been my sign that yesterday was coming. And yet, I wasn't quite prepared.
I should have been. It's been clear for months that he was ready to move on, that he wasn't a preschooler anymore. We've known for six years that he would go to school just up the street and we really even stole an extra year by deciding to wait until this fall to start him there. We've attended all the meetings -- the ones at Stepping Stones and the ones at his new school -- and yet I feel a little blindsided.
I'm trying to remember that this is an exciting new beginning for him. He was assigned to a teacher who is nearly legendary. I've never heard a parent utter an unflattering word about her and his new afternoon teacher is wonderful too. She's quiet and calm and steady and all the things I'm not. I've told him that his new best friends are waiting to be made this year, and I believe it. But, my goodness. How could he be ready to walk into an elementary school all by himself already?
I am fighting the feeling that I have in some way let his first six years slip by, without enough fanfare, without enough togetherness, without enough being in the moment.
He came into our lives as a baby that was, in retrospect, such an easy one to please. But we were new and we didn't know. It still seemed kind of daunting because we were so clueless. Hindsight being 20/20, I can now look back on the stages we hoped would pass sort of quickly and all the sleep I regretted missing, and see that I can't, from this moment forward, wish even one second of it away -- the good, the bad or the ugly. There's plenty of all three of those with him these days and I'm trying to embrace the notion that even the ugly is worth my being present.
A couple of months ago, on a rainy Saturday when Andrew was exhibiting the bad and the ugly, I spent a day butting heads with him. Everything he did rubbed me the wrong way that day and, if I'm being honest, everything I did was having the same effect on him. After some outburst -- probably from both of us -- when I was wishing away the moment if not the afternoon, Mark commented that if Andrew and I had been the same age we probably wouldn't have been boyfriend and girlfriend. Truer words had maybe never been spoken.
This child is dramatic, mercurial and sometimes just flat-out irritating with his persistance in being the center of attention. Negotiating with him is sometimes, quite frankly, a bit like talking to myself in the mirror and I have occasionally feared that he inherited all of my least flattering personality traits. The difference is that I think there's a fighting chance he'll use all of those to propel him in this world. It's those same characteristics that drive him to walk into Kindergarten by himself, with a smile on his face and his backpack full of confidence.
He is also full of personality, in a way that I someday hope to be. He is sometimes surprisingly aware of who he is and, most days, pretty much alright with that. His curiosity is seemingly neverending and when he couples it with his ability to retain information, he can be a walking Funk & Wagnalls.
He's quick with a smile and he can strike up articulate conversation with kids and adults when the mood is right. He loves to have fun and he's good at it. He's sometimes appropriately cautious, but he's not typically going to let himself be left out of a good, old-fashioned fun situation. He likes to laugh and if he can make his friends or, better yet, his brother, laugh he seems to feel a real sense of accomplishment. He often doesn't know quite when to stop but by gosh, he's kind of hilarious as he crosses lines. He's a good friend. He has a sense of loyalty to his buddies that sometimes extends to me. When he senses that I'm going to be the odd-man-out in a family situation he frequently offers to stay with me, so I won't be lonely. We've never asked him to do the same for his brother, but I'm confident he would if the chips were down.
He's exuberant, enthusiastic, inquisitive and entertaining. I like him on my team.
So here we are. He has made it clear that he doesn't need me to hold his hand so tightly for this new adventure and in that message he leaves me with a choice. I can either be sad that time has moved so quickly and that I wasn't here for every second of it, or, I can choose to learn from his ability to make the best of every situation and be overwhelmingly proud of how prepared he is.
I'm guessing tomorrow morning will bring an even quicker exit from the car and that he's unlikely to turn around for a wave as he becomes more comfortable in his new routine. He's sure, after all. And I am too. I'm sure that he's not perfect, but perfect for us, and that he leaves me with only one choice -- to follow his example and to live without regret.
Tomorrow I won't ask him twice if he wants me to walk in with him. I will remind him to smile often, to listen more than he talks, to enjoy the little things and to go be sure. Then I'll vow to do the same for him because it's what he deserves and time moves too fast to do it any other way.