This morning was our baby boy’s first day of preschool.
If you are also a mom, you know that I’ve already said enough.
There are so many emotions surrounding this day, especially given the fact that he is our first and currently only child. He is our baby that we brought home from the hospital, almost two years ago. TWO years, when in reality it seems like we’ve known him our entire lives.
It all started a few months ago, when he looked up at me and out of the blue said, “Mama. Fwends?”
It was an ordinary day. I hadn’t been proactive and planned any play-dates for that week. We were getting ready to go on another outing just the two of us. And all of a sudden, there it was. He was asking to see friends.
I don’t know if he meant that he wanted to see anyone in particular, or that he was just anxious to do something with other children his age, his size. I can imagine that being a toddler who is an only child, surrounded constantly by giant adults who talk really fast, he was probably hopeful for some time with other little ones like him. Or maybe he was beginning to recognize, in his typical, intuitive one and a half year-old fashion, that we spent every second of every day together, and a change of scenery would be nice.
This one question on the part of my toddler sent a bit of a shockwave through me. “He needs other people!” I thought. He already gets regular, sweet time with his grandparents, family members and toddler friends on occasion, but it was beginning to occur to me that my baby is not a baby any longer. He is growing, understanding more of the world around him, and in need of more than the four walls of our home each day.
It was easy for me to second guess this decision. I am a teacher, have spent lots of time studying how to teach young children, and felt generally equipped to meet my son’s needs during this stage of his life. But I had to come to the realization that he is unique, and in order to truly mother him in the best way possible, I need to recognize HIS needs, and act on them. My rambunctious, curious little man needed more structure than I could give him. He needed new experiences, new faces, and new “fwends.”
So, we started the search for a good preschool. Ultimately, we found it. It is located in a historic methodist church just off of our downtown. It is purposefully small and is run by some really great people. (Bonus points for being less than five minutes from our front door.) We got him enrolled, which led us to today.
We’ve anticipated this day for weeks now. We bought the dinosaur backpack, solar system lunchbox, and brand new tennis shoes.
This morning was a long one. We bathed, picked out his best outfit, took pictures, and were in the car twenty minutes before we needed to be there. Did I mention the preschool was less than five minutes away?
We rehearsed over and over that he would arrive at school, see friends, see his teachers, and that we’d use our code that he (thankfully) understands, “Mama be back.” We finally walked up the steps to the door and the director greeted us with a warm smile, took all of his supplies and his things, and introduced us to his teachers. Caleb held my hand as we walked to his classroom, behind his teacher, Ms. Paula. She sits down, along with two other little ones, and moves a stacking toy into a clear area of the rug. “Do you like to stack, Caleb?”
How did she know?
Stacking is usually his first go-to. He slowly walks into the room, and then pauses, while he looks back with mild panic in his eyes, “Mama hold you?”
That’s when I wrapped him in a big hug and said, “Buddy, you’re going to do great. Mama be back. Love you.”
He turned back around and stood, looking into the classroom, still hesitant and clutching his sippy cup, but with NO tears.
I gulped down my own tears, slipped into the hallway, and the director walked me back out of the building. Thankfully. She must have known I wouldn’t be able to think clearly or know how to retrace my steps.
I kept hearing what I thought was my phone alarm going off, so on two different occasions during his drop off, I pulled out my phone to try and turn it off, but no alarm. Throughout the whole morning, I felt clumsy and unsure. I had to remind myself that if I was confident, he would be too. So I put on the ‘face’ of being calm, cool and collected, when in reality I was breathing deep and trying to process the magnitude of what this day means.
I realized as I stepped back out into the parking lot that what I was hearing wasn’t my phone at all, it was the church bells ringing the hour. As I bounced down the steps and listened to the bells with the wind gently blowing through my hair, I knew that moment marked a milestone for me; both in my motherhood, and in my life with our sweet boy. He was taking his first step out into the world, and in order for him to do that, I have to let go, little by little.
Now, I’ll try to do something other than pace the floor for the remaining minutes until I go pick him up.
I know it will get easier. And I am looking forward to what this newfound independence for both of us will look like as our family continues to grow and evolve.
No matter what may come, I want to always remember my precious toddler Caleb, bravely walking into the unfamiliar apart from his mom on his first day of Madison United Methodist’s Owl Class. This is only the beginning.