I didn’t intend to write about my children today. Just yesterday I thought, “I only write about parenting, writing and, occasionally, when I can’t sleep, The Man Situation. I should write about something else.” So I made a conscious decision to write about my car. Plus I’d already written my one post for today.
But then I dropped my son off at his first day of high school and the moment blocked out the sun, crowding out everything else. Kids are like that, I suppose. They come in and steal the spotlight and tug at your heart even when you tell yourself it’s not going to happen. I’ve been underestimating their power over me since before they were born. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I outlined the plan to my mother: when the baby was two weeks old, I’d start dropping her off with her so I could go to the gym and resume my pre-baby life. My mom nodded knowingly, letting me spin my fantasy scenario. She knew what I didn’t yet at the time: I wasn’t prepared at all for the towering, primal love I would feel. I didn’t part with that kid for a year. Once her brother came (eighteen months after her), I devoted every waking ounce of me to making their food from scratch and fussing over them to the detriment of just about most other things, even adult conversation. They were everything.
I think of this today, because I’m a little bowled over by the emotional impact of dropping off my youngest at his first day of high school. I wasn’t feeling particularly upset about it before it happened. After all, I’m an old hand. It’s not a new school to me. My daughter started there last year. I know the lay of the land, the teachers. I’ve been to soccer games and ceremonies there. It’s a well-rated school in my nice suburb where I’ve lived since the month before my daughter was born. It’s a safe place. Also, he didn’t seem sad. If anything, he was excited. And yet watching him get sucked up by the building left me strangely bereft, like I’ve been other times that I felt I should just pick them up in my arms and run.
It reminded me of the day I dropped his sister off at kindergarten at a little Montessori school nearby. There was a very strict procedure for doing it; you drove around a circular driveway where, under the oversight of faculty, an “older kid” (a second or third grader) came to the car, took her hand and walked her inside. I watched her, jaunty, ready to take on the world, never looking back once, and yet too impossibly tiny to leave with strangers. She disappeared into the building. I sobbed all the way home.
My son didn’t look too tiny to leave today. He’s nearly six feet tall. And he too looked ready to take on the world, not like he needed me to go mother hen on him at all. And maybe that’s part of it, that sense of loss, of being left behind. But there’s another undercurrent, a knowledge of all the edges that this world bumps you into, a desire to shield them from pain and difficulty, a realization that I can’t and that I shouldn’t even if it were possible. My children are nearly grown, but they look so damn young and vulnerable. There’s so much they don’t know. I want to tell them everything, prepare them for it all. But, of course, the knowledge and experience they need is only earned, not imparted. My job is to give them the tools to earn it themselves and face anything.
As he got out of the car, I realized that the car in front of me was that of a friend of mine, the mom of a girl Zach met in kindergarten. The girl got out and spotted him. He walked over to her. The building loomed large and unforgiving in front of them, much as another one had looked a decade before, the year they met. They chatted as they walked into it, smiling, looking relaxed. They’d be fine, of course. It wasn’t for them to note the rapid rushing of time, but for their mothers. I took a breath and drove away.
If the goal of parenting is to get kids ready to go off on their own, I know I am succeeding. It’s bittersweet, an exercise in making myself obsolete. But it is incredibly powerful as well, a love so strong it grabs me and won’t let me go, even when I least expect it. There are days like today when I feel it sharply and am awed by it.
Good luck to you today and every day, my sweet ones.