Yesterday was the Eldest’s first day of school. This is his second year in something structured outside of our home. And, boy, what a difference a year makes.
Last year, we both struggled with angst and worry about the start of school. He was two years old, almost three really, and I figured he was ready. It seemed like a good time to start. And it was only two mornings a week. But we had spent every day together for almost three straight years. What would this be like? For him? For me?
It was a time of transition, for sure. Craving structure and familiarity, he built his own routine for our mornings. There were tears at my departure, but always a smile when the day was through. After about a month, he had found his own rhythm and place within his classroom. It was a great first year of school; a loving and nurturing space for him to grow more independent and have something of his very own.
This year, as we snuggled on the couch last week, casually discussing the start of the new school year, he articulated very clearly to me: “Mom, I’m only a little nervous about school this year, because I’ve already been to school before.” Clearly, he had a handle on his feelings, with brilliant metacognition of why he felt the way he did. I breathed a little (OK, a lot) easier hearing these brave words from him. I know that last year, my own ambivalence and anxiety eeked out, no matter how I tried to contain my own feelings. I also know that my super-sensitive, tender, empathic little boy soaks those feelings up into his marrow. Together, we created the tension of the new year, and together we fought through it. And this year, our collective confidence would carry us a bit further.
And it did. He remembered his teacher’s name without me reminding him. He was excited to see an old friend from last year — and surprised to learn that two more were in his class this year. He clung to pieces of rhythm that were familiar — walking the long way to the class, going to a particular bathroom on the way. He raced in to the classroom, eager to play with the fire engines that we had seen a few weeks ago when we came in to meet his teacher. And when it was time for me to pick him up, he gave his new teacher a big hug and a kiss. In the car, as he told stories of his morning to his sister and I, he paused and said “Mom, I love my first day of school.”
The distance of a year between these two firsts has highlighted for me where he has come from and who he is becoming. Strong, gracious, kind, genuine. He carries himself with confidence — he has had doubts, and worry; he has been scared and been brave. He has pressed on through these things, but as this own pace, in his own time. There are moments in mothering when I feel as though I’m being given a little squeeze on the shoulder, a little nod and a smile to say that I’m on the right track. This was one of those moments. For one small bit I know that I have navigated and balanced through just a teeny tiny portion of dependence and mastery, doubt and faith, uncertainty and wisdom. He had to do this himself. But he did it knowing that I would always be there to come home to.
There are new things waiting for him at school this year. No longer the youngest in the building, his world expands a bit more. Trips to the library and to chapel will become another part of his school rhythm. He’ll make new friends, and have new adventures to tell upon coming home. There will be new obstacles, new dragons to slay. But I know that we’ll be brave together. And we’ll keep on exploring.