My firstborn, he started Kindergarten this week.
He’s far too logical to get caught up in anxiety or tears. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do, what to expect, and what was expected of him – and thus was just ready to get on about the business of hopping on that bus.
I didn’t cry, either…though admittedly I had already shed plenty of tears over the whole thing well in advance of the big day so I guess there was nothing left to feel but excitement for my big boy.
But the night before, as I lay in bed during that stupid, stupid time between going to bed and actually sleeping, my mind started wandering. What happens when he gets off the bus at school? There will be adults to help the kids, but is telling him to mind all the grown-ups un-teaching him everything he’s understood about stranger danger? And if someone gives my sweet little rule-follower instructions that aren’t right, will he follow them anyway? Isn’t the chaos of shepherding 270 brand-new kindergartners (yes, you read that right, I swear I’m not even exaggerating) the perfect opportunity for someone with terrible intentions to try and abduct one of them?
Thank you, dear brain, for your flurry of activity at 10:30 pm on the eve of Kindergarten.
So the next morning after he dressed and ate his breakfast I tried to fill in all the gaps I realized I’d left. See this? This is where mommy’s phone number is. If you’re lost, you ask someone to call it for you. When you get off the bus, you know what to do. Listen to the grown-ups, but never leave the school with anyone that isn’t mommy or daddy. See this section of your lunch box? That is your snack. The rest is what you should eat during lunch time. And your name is written here on the bottom – see? So if someone else has Lightning McQueen, you know which one is yours. And here is your drink. It doesn’t fit in your lunch box, but I don’t want you to get thirsty. Today you’ll wear your new jacket. But if you forget which one is yours because it’s new, here’s where it’s labeled. Your homework is in your folder in your backpack. Be friendly and kind to all the other kids. Listen to your teacher. When you get off the bus this afternoon, mommy will be here waiting for you.
He looked at me with his eyes wide. Silence.
He’d follow every instruction to the letter. I was sure of that. I knew that he heard every word and tucked it into his little brain, because I know my boy. But I also know that it was too much.
On a morning that for him was about a fun, new adventure – for me it was about realizing how many gaps there have been in my parenting. It was about sending him out into a big, bad world alone without every single tool he needed to be safe in it.
And I’m realizing that there will always be gaps. The moment I become aware of one and address it, another pops up. I learn of something a friend did that I think is completely brilliant, and I realize my son will be better off if I implement the same thing.
I tell myself the same thing, over and over: It’s for his own good.
But is it really? How much safety stuff do I need to teach him before I push him over the line from basic common sense to paranoid, frightened kiddo? If he always gets such a clear explanation of what to expect in new circumstances, when does he learn how to enter a new situation with confidence and not anxiety? And if I’m always warning him of the various hazards he needs to look out for when he’s trying new things, am I sucking away all the fun he’s supposed to be having? HE’S FIVE.
I am not what you would call a helicopter parent. I have the propensity to be, that is for certain. But I make a very concerted effort to bite my tongue and just let him be and see what happens. I’ve tried to cover the big things, but I do know that there are gaps.
There will always be gaps.
And even when he goes off to college, I know I’ll want to run after him or send a flurry of texts of all the things I forgot to teach him before leaving our little nest.
But I will not. Instead, I’ll pace myself. I’ll keep filling in the gaps as I notice them, one at a time. But not all at once like I did on the first day of Kindergarten.
Because that was too much. For both of us.