It's happening. My youngest starts Transitional Kindergarten tomorrow.
Although it is a transitional year for him between preschool and actual Kindergarten, there is no transitioning for me. He'll be in school for as many hours and days as he would be if he was starting Kindergarten, AND he will be attending a new elementary school that neither of us have been before.
This is not the carefree wonderland, play-in-the-mud up to your knees and elbows, run around with chickens, dream of a nursery school that he spent the last two years at for only three short days a week. Nope. This is a five days a week, five hours a day, keep your shoes and socks on, recite the pledge of allegiance, "big kid" kind of a school.
A big step for him. An even bigger step for me.
Let me repeat. Five days a week. Five hours a day. ME. ALONE. WITHOUT KIDS.
The thought of this new reality is surreal, and a bit hard to believe it's here. After the pregnancies, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression, preschool separation anxiety, and a near loss of my identity as a woman, wife, friend (and sane human, at times), my impending release from toddlerdom, the shackles of which have held my autonomy and personal freedom hostage for the last NINE years, has finally arrived.
In just a few short hours, my daughter will enter 3rd Grade, my son will begin T-K, and a goal I set over ten years ago will be realized. I vowed to "stay at home" until my youngest kid entered elementary school, bound and determined to be there, be present, and be the best mom I could be during those all important and vital first five years of my kids' lives. (Yep, that's me, as idealistic as they come.) I dedicated myself to this lofty ideal before I was even pregnant with my first... way before I knew exactly what it meant, what I would be giving up, and how hard it would actually be to do it.
So tomorrow is a monumental day, and one I have been looking forward to for a while now. Yet, now that it's here, it doesn't feel as monumental as I thought it would. I thought I would feel an overwhelming mix of excitement and relief to finally have both kids in school full time. I thought I would be over the moon and brimming with ideas of how to spend my first days of freedom.
After all, isn't this what I have been wanting? Isn't this what I have been waiting for? Planning on? Dreaming of? To cease living in a daily state of chaos amongst land mines of toys, mountains of laundry and stained couch cushions? To reclaim a life outside the confining reality of motherhood? To identify myself as a woman and an individual with a professional career, and get back to the business of taking care of, well, ME?
It's late. I'm still awake while my kids and husband are asleep. I stayed up to finish prepping for the big day, washing the kids' new stainless steel lunch kits and putting name labels on their water bottles and backpacks. As I sit here alone in the quiet of the night, my newfound freedom within grasp, I feel different than I expected to feel.
I don't feel excited, I feel calm. Not relieved. Not ecstatic. Just calm. And reflective. Surprisingly, I find my attitude toward achieving this new freedom altered. I find myself thinking less about what I gave up the past few years or what I will be getting back in the next few, and more about what I will be saying goodbye to as my son welcomes in this new adventure.
His world will be expanding and his reality will begin to change as soon as he walks into that classroom tomorrow. Soon he is going to learn to say his "L's" correctly, and I will no longer hear him say, "I yove you" or "I yike yoyipops." He will learn to sign his name without needing me to remind him which direction the "C" goes. He will soon learn to button his own pants, zip his own jacket, and tie his own shoes.
Those things that seem like they will stay that way forever will suddenly one day cease to be; and his little habits and dependencies will drift out of my life like a breeze not appreciated until it's gone. Soon he will not need me to ensure he's buckled into his carseat correctly, nor will he need me to wipe his face after eating or his bottom after pottying. All these mundane little things, that at times are tedious and exasperating, will just be gone one day, never to return.
True, so much has already gone by the wayside. Leaning over him on the changing table to kiss his feet and make him laugh while changing his diaper. Seeing his toothless grin while spoon feeding him oatmeal. Assisting him in drinking milk from a cup. Helping him brush his teeth and put on his pajamas. While he has slowly taken over some of life's tasks and responsibilities, small bits of my freedom have been returned to me little by little with each milestone achieved... and honestly, I have welcomed every one of them.
Still, any relief I have gained over the years with his budding independence has perhaps received a little more focus and attention from me than any of the cute behaviors and endearing qualities that have suddenly gone adrift along the way, often without notice. As many parents spend these toddler years in a partial fog, sometimes the exhaustion and frustration challenges our ability to soak up and enjoy some of the precious moments amidst the overwhelmingness of it all. And although this all makes sense and is all so understandable, relatable, and somewhat expected by us... it also still kinda sucks.
So my son is no longer a baby. On the brink of turning five, he is barely even a toddler anymore. He is a little boy. A little boy with leg hair and arm hair and a head full of wild, curly hair. My little boy who, with each passing day, seems to need me less. Less to help him get dressed and less to fill his days with fun and wonder. Less to play with him in the bath, and less to comfort him at night as he falls asleep.
But wait. Hold up. Take a breath and accept. Wipe those tears away, mama, and consider this.
Is it possible that now, with each passing day, he may just need you more? Yes, less to help him physically live his life and survive in the practical sense; but more to guide him through his youth as he navigates the world around him?
More to comfort him when he gets teased or bullied for the first time at school. More to answer his inquiries when he is confused by what he sees and hears the big kids do and say. More to show and teach him what empathy is, how to be generous of spirit, and how to be giving and forgiving. More to help him process his emotions so he will grow to know that feeling his feelings is a good thing, and not something to fight, resist, or deny.
It's true, maybe now I'll have more time to myself. Maybe now I'll have more possibilities to be more than "just" a mom. Maybe freedom from toddlerdom means I will cease to be a Mommy who pushes a stroller, carries a diaper bag, or exists as the center of her kid's universe.
And maybe all that makes me a little sad.
But I think it also means that as my son grows, all the new and different ways that he needs me will be more vital than ever before. It means that this journey of becoming a parent has changed more than just my daily routine or the time I have to focus on me. I am realizing now that becoming a parent has changed my life more in that it has changed ME... my perspective, my priorities, and my capacity to love.
MORE. MORE. MORE.
So when I wake up tomorrow and take my son to school on his first day, I will not be focusing on what I am gaining in time and freedom, nor losing in endearing toddler moments and memories. I will be content in recognizing that what we are both experiencing in the present is special, and fleeting, and wonderful, and true. I will watch and enjoy my beautiful boy as he begins this exciting new endeavor; and I will experience it with gratitude and presence, rather than with yearning for the past or anticipation for the future.
I will be BE HERE NOW and see the moment for what it is... perfect in its impermanence, just as every other moment with him has been, is, and will always be.