So as you guys know, we've never had a sitter. For the past four years and counting, it's been the three of us — or two, when work beckons one parent away. But for the entire course of his existence, The Boy has always been in the presence of at least one parent.
Until Sept. 9.
This date marked the long-planned-for and not necessarily highly anticipated first day of preschool. It was an occasion that we knew must come but that we just kept telling ourselves we weren't quite ready for. Yet. He was still a little needy. We were still a little clingy. He wasn't so good with the potty stuff yet. Or the fork stuff. So let's just keep him home for now and talk about it again in a few months, OK?
After a few months, and then another few months, as excuses fell by the wayside, it became clear that starting preschool was going to involve the same kind of leap of faith as having The Boy to begin with. Namely, there is no "perfect time." The stars will never align in such a way as to provide a seamless transition to preschool without tears, trauma or tantrums. You just have to go ahead and make the leap and let everything work itself out. Ain't nothing to it but to do it, as they say. So last week, we bit the bullet and we did it.
On the first day, we watched him stride down the hall wearing a Transformers backpack so big he looked like a brave little turtle. He did not shed a tear. We picked up the slack for him the moment we got in the car. Make fun of us if you want; our friends already have. Apparently, we're losers and sissies and "helicopter parents." All I know is it felt like we were leaving the most important part of us behind, and we were just expected to drive off like this was something we did every day.
We called an hour in to see how he was doing. "He is sitting on the rug hearing a story," came the report. "He's smiling and laughing." That made one of us. The remaining two members of Team Boy spent the whole three hours he was gone mourning and snapping at each other. Misery doesn't love company when certain miseries blame their fellow miseries for sending their precious baby off to the great unknown.
At 15 minutes to pickup time, we were sitting eagerly in the parking lot, waiting impatiently for the hypothetical bell to ring. As we sat in nervous anticipation, a father strolled out of the school holding a smiling child by the hand. Well, hey! If we'd known you could go in any old time … we leapt from the car and hustled down the sidewalk to look for our smiling child.
Only our child was sobbing and hiccupping in a heap on the rug, runny-nosed and despondent. According to the teacher, he panicked when the other boy's father picked him up, figuring parents were coming now or never and for him it must be never. How awful did we feel then? We vowed to be first the next day.
Everyone told us that, for The Boy, the second day would be harder than the first and that when the shock wore off and he realized he was going to have to do this every day, there would be massive protest. So we braced ourselves for what was to come and were pleasantly surprised when he calmly took his teacher's hand and headed off down the hall without a peep. And when we arrived to pick him up — first, as promised — he told us he couldn't leave yet because he was hearing a story! We went home and toasted our success with cookies and milk, proud of how well we'd all handled the transition.
What a difference a weekend makes. The Boy's second week of preschool started with a massive, heartbroken sobbing fit when he was informed that it was time to get ready for school. My husband rocked and consoled him with a pep talk that would have humbled Vince Lombardi. We made a strong showing on the way to the car, waving a proud farewell to JaVon, also on his way to school. Oh, the camaraderie! And then, the second we hit the door of the preschool, meltdown city.
I know that this is when we prove our mettle as caring parents, and doing what is hard is what shapes independent, healthy kids. And I also know that there was nothing we've ever wanted to do more than grab our crying baby and bring him back home with us. But this isn't about what we want. It's about what's best for The Boy. And, as hokey as it sounds, someday he'll thank us.