Is Your Kid Going to School for the First Time? I Feel Your Pain.
When my son was born, he was a little bowling ball.
He wasn’t even close to the biggest baby ever born, but he wasn’t small either. Born at eight-pounds-three-ounces despite being three weeks early, he soon grew heavy, and people were always joking that all 5’1” of me was going to have a hard time carrying him before he was even two. Sometimes, my screaming bicep (just the one. I do not have more.) seemed to agree. Yet and still, I caught myself cuddling him a little closer with each pound he’d gain, because I knew that one day, I wouldn’t be carrying him anymore.
And then he crawled. And then he walked. And then we spent his second year basically at odds all day because he wouldn’t quit screeching at me and I didn’t know what to do.
And then, one day, I turned around and he was five years old.
He’s scrawny now, a long bag of bones with a mouth that doesn’t quit moving, lest he forgets to share the thought he just had or the question that rocked his brain to the point of needing an immediate answer right now. His big, brown eyes are often wide with guilt from being caught at misbehaving, and you can hear his flat little feet coming at you with a demand from a mile away. He watches TV upside down. That’s not a metaphor, by the way; he legit sits on his head and watches cartoons that way for long periods at a time.
Sometimes, he hops all over the couch like he’s lost his mind. Sometimes, he just sits next to me and lays his head on my shoulder. It’s a crapshoot, really. On those days, I wonder if he knows that we’re reaching the end of a chapter, one that I’m both ready for and not all at once.
It’s silly, right? We all know the first day of school will come. If you’re like me, you read articles and teach them little things day in and out. You start explaining that there will be a teacher and story time and lunchtime, and that you’ll be in close contact with faculty so you’d better not hear that they’re acting up. You’ll start warning them months ahead of time that school is about to become a thing, that they won’t be able to sleep in or just do whatever they want anymore.
“Things are going to change.” You’ll say. “You’re going to be a big kid now.”
It’ll still sneak up on you.
For me, it was while I was watching him run through the sprinklers. I watched him screech in delight every time he got wet. He zoomed around in his underwear, giggling with pure, unadulterated joy, and the thought came suddenly and mostly-unwelcome: This will be your last summer with him just like this.
Up until that moment, school had just been an abstract new development in our lives. I actually was kind of ready for him to be challenged by someone — and for him to quit constantly challenging me. Like, sure, he’s a great kid and I love him and I’d literally wrestle a bull with my bare hands for him, but we’re starting to get on each other’s nerves, because he wants me to keep him stimulated all day long, and I really just want people to quit asking me for things. Also, there’s talking back and picking on his little sister, and some days it’s enough to make me want to get day drunk on a whole beer.
Since that day, I’ve realized that his growth means he and his sister will find their own friends now. He’ll probably want to cuddle us less. He’ll be tired more often. But it also means that he’ll learn how to make friends. He’ll get to soak his brain in as many facts as he wants. He’ll take that first step towards being the great man I know he’ll be one day. And I’ll get to watch it all.
No matter how much sweetness there is in our children’s growth, there is always a note of bitterness. It’s always the end of something, the last of certain little moments that you’d started to assume would always occur when you needed them most.
But it’s the start of something, too. Something big, something wonderful, something special. And we get to miss what’s ended, and look forward to what’s beginning.
It’s an honor, and it sucks. And if you’re feeling both, I’m right there with you.
Good luck to my little man, and to you and your little ones, too.
Here’s to life’s roller coaster doing whatever the hell it wants, whether we’re holding on or not.
Arianna Bradford is a mother of two, including a brand new Kindergartener. When she isn’t writing, she’s hosting the brand spankin’ new NYAM Project Podcast, which can be heard anywhere podcasts are played. She also started the NYAM Project and really hopes you like it.