At 9:00AM this morning, I held my little man’s hand as we trudged through the snow in the sub-zero temperatures toward his future. Ok, technically we were trudging toward The Little Gym, but in the moment it felt like we were passing through some sort of portal. When I entered the portal I was leading my baby by the hand toward his first ever independent day camp, and when I passed through the other side I was being pulled forward by a big kid who was telling me to “hurry up” so he didn’t miss any of the fun. The funny thing is while the passage pushed him into a new chapter in his life, it pulled me back more violently than I expected.
Every mom has a story about the first time they leave their child, whether its daycare when they’re 1, preschool when they’re 2, Day Camp when they’re 3, or Kindergarten when they’re 5. The age isn’t important. It hurts the same for us all. But what surprised me was how bittersweet the moment felt. I looked into his chubby little face as I told him that we were going to leave and that we’d be back to pick him up in a few hours, and I was waiting for the tears to start. He looked briefly into my eyes with worry, and in that moment it took everything I had not to scoop him into my arms and promise never to leave him. I mean, I could always use a brush up on grade school, right?
But the fleeting moment of fear passed and I saw him grow up before my eyes. He swallowed hard once, crammed his hands in his little jeans pockets, turned away from me and joined the rest of the kids in the gym. That’s when it really hit me. I’d been so worried about how he would feel about being alone that I never stopped to think about how I would feel. Sure, I was proud of him for being so grown up, but I was also sad to realize that my first baby was gone and had been replaced by a wonderful, smart, funny, independent child.
The only way I can describe the feeling is that my heart broke with joy. I think this is a feeling that only another parent can understand. From the moment our babies are born, they are in the business of growing up and pulling away from us. Its our job to guide them as best we can along the way so they can fulfill their potential as human beings. Part of fulfilling that potential is to learn how to navigate the world on their own, without our help. We spend a significant portion of our days urging them, begging them even, to do things for themselves. Please use your own fork to eat dinner. Please brush your own teeth. Please put on your own shoes and jacket. And for heaven’s sake, please wipe your own butt! We push them, sometimes harder than we mean to, to grow up. Then one day, almost all at once, they do. You’d think we’d be prepared for it after all our pushing, but we’re not. I wasn’t.
I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be back to pushing him toward another milestone in his life, because that’s what parents do, but today I’m just taking a moment to mourn the passing of my first born baby and celebrate his arrival into childhood. When I pick him up, I’ll probably hug him harder and longer than he will like, but I won’t care. And in the middle of the night tonight, when my youngest son wakes up crying for milk, I’ll try to remember how quickly these days go by and how before I know it he will be pulling me through the door for his first day of school.
Its an amazing and wonderful privilege to watch a child grow from a helpless infant to a fully functioning miniature adult in just three short years, but its hard not to feel like they’re leaving you behind. They are speeding through life as such extraordinary speeds, and you are mostly standing still (well, maybe not as still as we would like sometimes when we find another wrinkle or our first gray hair). All we can do is hold on to them as long as we can and know when they need us to let go.
For now, I’m going to shed a few tears, suck it up, and go breastfeed my next little person, and try and prepare myself to go through this all over again.