I can remember my first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. An independent and scholastic Type-A girl from birth, I’d been asking my mom to send me to kindergarten since I was two years-old, so I was beyond ready. I could hardly sleep the night before, my excitement too much to bear.
On that day, my mom dropped me off at the parent drop-off line and I walked myself to my class, Lisa Frank backpack, light up LA Gear shoes, and all (shout out, 1991). That’s right – no one had to walk five-year-old me across my school. I knew exactly where I was going because the route from one end of my elementary school to the other was practically burned into my brain at my recent kindergarten orientation. It was all I could do to keep my cool. I did my best to walk safely and not skip, but boy, was it hard. It was almost impossible to keep a spring out of my step when imagining the classroom I was making my way toward. I had visions of that brightly colored room filled with several tables, each adorned with a handful of happy, chatty five-year-olds like me with fists full of crayons and faces full of smiles.
But when I finally got to my classroom, my face fell almost instantly. What I saw couldn’t have been further from what I was expecting; the bright lights and yellow walls were obstructed from my view by a deep, swaying sea of sobbing parents and children. The cries were cacophonous in that big, open room, and my entrance went completely unnoticed. I felt so small and confused, so my brain started to question everything. Am I in the right room? Is this how kindergarten is supposed to go? Why am I the only one in this room who isn’t crying? Did I miss something tragic, like a death or a knocked-over block tower? DID SOMEONE CUT A BARBIE’S HAIR?
I found a table that had only two crying people at it – a girl named Adrienne and her mom – and I awkwardly asked if I could sit with them. Between sniffles they nodded, and I quietly took my seat and surveyed the madness into which I had just entered.
That day left such an impression on me, obviously. It might even be one of those core memories a la Inside Out that has shaped and formed me into the person I am today. After my first day of kindergarten, I promised myself that when it came time for me to send my children to school, there would be no emotions on my end other than excitement and glee.
Well, friends, the time has come for me to put my money where my mouth is. My firstborn son Dax is entering kindergarten in the fall and I have the registration packet and unending list of identification documents to rummage for to prove it. And with each little tear that threatens to enter my eyes when I hear him bragging to his friends and babysitters about starting school in August, I find myself aching for those sweet parents in my kindergarten classroom all those years ago. I finally get it, which means I’m now questioning everything about myself all over again.
Am I really going to be that parent that cries on her son’s first day of school, even though I’ve spent nearly three decades preparing to do the opposite? Will I be sad if he doesn’t cry, too? Why is this such a big deal, the first day of kindergarten?
The best I can tell, based on my unreliable emotions and apparent identity crisis, is that this whole kindergarten thing is a big deal because it’s the beginning of the end of my grip on my child. A dear friend of mine who has two kids, one in college and the other almost in high school, told me that our parenting is broken down into three parts of six years each – we get our kids to ourselves, more or less, for six years, then we share them for six years, and then we spend six years letting them go. The beginning of kindergarten marks the approaching end of that first third of my relationship with Dax, the part where he is all mine, and sooner than I would like I’ll be sharing him with his friends, his teachers, his soccer coaches, and whoever else he looks up to. And before I know it, I’ll feel my grip start to slip a little bit, and I’ll be watching him go.
The school Dax is going to in the fall has a crying room for the first day of school. A crying room for the parents, not the students, mind you. Will I be crammed in that loud room, bawling into the sleeve of my shirt, simultaneously brokenhearted and extremely proud of this milestone? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, everything has come full circle now. Contrary to what I thought on my first day of kindergarten, this day is awash in so many emotions – not all of them happy – and I’m ready for it.
Bring on the tissues. And mimosas. Those will probably help, too.