Nicholas started 1st grade today (cue sobbing). He will now officially be under the care and tutelage of essential strangers for the majority of the week for the majority of the year. I get the privilege to see him on nights and weekends and during the occasional school break. I have tried really, really hard to prepare myself for this day, the day that I have to wave goodbye and step completely out of his sight. Not just be in the other room, within arm's reach, as he plays with his race cars. Not just be within eyesight as he tackles the monkey bars on the playground. More or less be absent from his life for eight hours a day, five days a week. To some mothers, the start of school is deserved reprieve. To a control-freak mom, it's an anxiety attack on steroids.
I have had my finger on the pulse of every single event or occurrence in Nicholas's life over the past six years. As a stay-at-home mom, we have enjoyed the closeness that comes with spending all of our waking hours together. I have relished in watching the baby grow into the toddler who grew into the preschooler who was a Kindergartner just last year. I knew the day would come when he would grow up a little bit more and become a little bit more independent. When he would venture off to school full-time with a backpack full of cool pencils, colorful erasers and a trendy lunchbox. I knew it in the back of my mind. But that day was light years away as I changed diapers, held the hands of an unbalanced walker, listened with amusement to the awkwardness of new speech and watched chubby legs transform into strong, muscular limbs. My mind cannot quiet comprehend that the day I anticipated for years has actually arrived.
I know that Nicholas is ready for his big debut as a 1st grader. Just because I'm having issues with his initiation into the world of raucous bus riding, potential bullies and influential older kids doesn't diminish the fact that Nicholas has developed a decent moral foundation. His dad and I have spent countless hours instilling in him the principles of honesty, respect, and compassion. But, up until now, I have been right by his side to encourage him to demonstrate those principles and I have reprimanded him when he has not. Today, he has to accomplish those tasks all by himself.
I wish more than anything that I could stand by him on the playground and lob away every hurtful remark. I wish I could hold a shield over his heart so that anyone who tries to deflate his good nature would be unsuccessful. I wish I could just go back to when Nicholas was a baby and do these past six years all over again. But, I know that's not possible or realistic. As much as I struggle to accept the inevitable, I am aware that I can't be there to wipe every tear or calm every nervous tension. I wish like hell there was a way that I could.
Because he will spend the next 11 years in school surrounded by different cultures, personalities and environments, I pray that Nicholas makes good decisions. That he chooses his friends wisely. That he teaches people how to treat him by not tolerating cruel remarks and callous behavior. That he stands firm in his beliefs and doesn't succumb to unscrupulous influence. It is ironic, however, that I am expecting a six-year-old to accomplish what I have struggled to pull off for the past 39 years. I just hope that Nicholas learns how to stand up for himself a lot sooner than I did.
Nicholas asked me at breakfast today, "what should I do if some boys are mean to me on the bus?" I asked him what he thought he should do and before he could answer, Christopher chimed in with a simple, "just ignore them." Nicholas said he would certainly try this strategy but I also reassured him that it would be OK to ask for help from the bus driver. I resisted the urge to tell him, "just give me the names of the mean boys and I will take care of the rest."
When Nicholas goes to bed at night and asks if we can have a "conversation," he usually has some questions he needs answers to or situations he needs help sorting out. Sometimes he just wants to delay his bedtime, but I never miss an opportunity for a "conversation." I know now that these little talks will become even more precious now as I learn about his teacher and friends and school day from afar.
Nicholas got on the bus today. He turned around and waved goodbye to me today. He ventured off into uncharted, exciting, scary territory today. My control-freak instincts kicked in as I reached for my car keys, but I also resisted the urge to drive behind the bus and follow Nicholas to school. I just have to take a leap of faith and hope that those in whose care I have entrusted him do their best to support and protect my son.
It's tough to let go. I have a sinking feeling that it never gets any easier, either.