When my son was just three years old, I walked him to kindergarten. I was ready for him to go, and I know he was ready, too. He had grown so much and wanted new friends and experiences so badly. He talked about how excited he was to go to school, and how much he looked forward to all the games he would play and friends he would meet.
On the first day, my brave, but very shy little boy’s body shook with sobs, and he clung to my leg. He was terrified, and I was heartbroken.
“Mommy! Don’t go! I need you! I scared!“, he screamed. Do you know how gutting it is to hear your little kid say those things? And to know you have to walk away? It’s awful. Our instinct is to comfort our kids, but at some point we know we have to let go. The other parents tried not to stare, but I felt like all eyes were on us. I could hardly hold back my tears behind my sunglasses as I tried to pry my son’s tiny fingers from my leg.
“It’s going to be so fun! You’re my big boy. You’re going to love school. Look at all those friends just waiting to play with you!“, I said.
He cried and cried. I plastered a fake smile onto my face and used my best mommy voice, reassuring him this was going to be “so awesome!” and I’d be right there waiting for him at the end of the day.
While the other kids stood on their own in line waiting to go into the classroom, I stood alongside my little boy, the very youngest in his JK/SK class. I took him inside and found the cubby with his name tag above. Carefully, I took his outdoor shoes off and traded them for indoor ones. I stroked his beautiful soft cheeks and kissed the top of his head. I held him close for as long as I could before it was time to have him pried off me. It was awful.
He begged me not to go, but I knew I had to leave. Most parents wouldn’t make eye contact with me, but I remember the look in one mom’s eyes — she knew.
I could hear my son screaming and crying as I walked away, and my heart broke into little shards that day. Would he cry all day? Had I ruined his trust for me? Would he be alright? I felt like a failure, like I’d abandoned him. But after school, he emerged with a smile and a huge hug for me, with stories of the fun things he had done. He had wiped his own bum! He had played at recess! They got to paint!
The next day, however, there were more tears. More begging and pleading to come home to play with me because he loved me and missed me so. And again, I pried my little son’s fingers from my body and watched his teacher, a stranger, take him to sit in the circle with the other children. And again, I went home and cried.
Every single day I felt like my soul was aching and my heart broken. I cried so many tears — at least two for every one my son shed, I’m sure of it. Every day for three months I felt drained and sad until I saw his little face after school and heard about how wonderful his days were. I knew that he wanted to be there, but the moment of separation was difficult for him. I couldn’t explain to him that I was always waiting for him, that he would have so much fun at school, or that time would fly by. I had to just let the days wash over us, knowing (hoping) that one day there would be no tears.
And one day, there were no tears.
When I got back to my car that day, it dawned on me that he had finally let go without sobbing, and that was the day I cried the most tears. Of sadness, but also of relief and pride.
Dear mama of the crying child: I know how you’re feeling today. I know how overwhelmed you feel, and how sad. I know how you wish your child would just stop crying because hey, it’s so fun at kindergarten and the other kids aren’t crying, right? I know. I know that you feel like you have to be strong, and not cry, but it’s ok. We all do it. I wish I could give you as much comfort as you wish you could give your child. It’ll be ok, I promise.
These small moments are so momentous in our lives. Parents soon forget how traumatic these times can be, despite how short-lived I promise they truly are. You are not failing your little one, you’re giving them wings. You’re letting them know that they’re safe to leave and you’ll always be there when it’s time to come home. You’re letting them learn and play and grow, and these are gifts we don’t even realize how lucky we are to offer our children.
The days seem long, but the years are short, and I promise the tears will not last forever. I promise you that one day, just like my son, your child will give a wave and walk away without hesitation. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll cry that day, too.