Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Growing Up and Letting Go

Yesterday morning I took my baby to school for the very first time.

From the moment I opened my eyes I had that lump-in-my-throat feeling that something very big was happening, and I wasn't sure how I felt about it.  But the truth is that I'm very excited for Cael to go to preschool.  He needs the stimulation and the interaction with other kids and adults, and I know that I need an occasional break from him to better appreciate him when he's around.  You know, so that I don't get desensitized to his cuteness.

But I still feel like I'm handing over the 7lb, 15 oz. bundle I held almost four years ago, completely vulnerable and mine to protect.  Full of silly smiles, a warm neck to nuzzle and a lifetime of firsts we were yet to experience. 

All through breakfast we chatted about what he should expect at school.  Would there be toys?  Would there be food?  Would they go outside?  I reminded him that the first day was just a one-hour session and that he would play only briefly while I sat in on an informational meeting, and then we would return home.

"But Mommy, who will watch me when you're at the meeting?"

"The teachers will watch you."

"But I don't want you to go."

Have you ever felt your heart torn two ways?  One part of me craves some space from him and looks forward to his future school career and the potential to feel like a person separate from him.  The other part of me can't -or doesn't want to- let go of my baby, as if letting him take that walk alone signifies that those love-filled kisses and tiny toes are officially a thing of the past.  A part of our history and not our present.  Not our future.

"You will have a great time, and I will come right back for you."


I smiled at his independence and gave myself an imaginary pat on the pack for giving him confidence in both himself and me.  And then I hugged him for what felt like an hour.  Right there in the living room while I put his too-small shoes on his too-big feet, he squirmed and I held on to him as if he were falling and I made him promise that he'd always make time for a hug from his Mommy.

"You're always going to snuggle me, right?" 


"You promise?"

"I promise.  And some trains carry cars, too."

Okay, so maybe he didn't get it.  But it made me feel better, and I was able to get both boys dressed so that I could take Cael outside and snap a few official "First Day of School" pictures.  I left the main door open so that Graham could watch us through the storm door as Cael modeled his new outfit and I documented each crooked smile and nervous giggle.

He tolerated the photo session quite well but it took very little time before both of us were cold and chattering our teeth.  I told him to sit still while I got his coat, but as I headed into the house I could see that Graham had closed the front door.  I opened the screen door and tried the handle.


I knocked a couple of times, which accomplished nothing but whipping the dog into enough of a frenzy to pee a silver-dollar sized circle of urine on the rug.  But still no Graham.  I rang the doorbell and after a moment, Graham toddled up to the window beside the door and smiled at me with a very Cael-like grin and ran off in the other direction.  Shivering as I punched in the garage code and entered through the laundry room, I realized that even though Cael is growing and starting a new phase of his life, I do still have Graham at home to cause trouble and push social boundaries.

With that emotional band-aid firmly in place, I buckled the boys in the car and drove to my sister's house to drop off Graham and then accompanied Cael to school.  We waited patiently in the hallway for the teachers to open the classrooms, and we filed in and found Cael's coat hook.  I put his coat on his hook and willed myself to hold it together as he placed his apple nametag on the attendance board.  We quickly found his good friend and now classmate, and as I turned to point out some features in the room, Cael was up in my grill with none other than a big, plastic train.

"Look, Mommy!  A TRAIN!"

"See, I knew you'd have a good time.  And they even have trains.  You weren't so sure they'd have toys that you would like, but there you go!  You'll have to tell your teacher how much you love trains, Cael."

At the sound of his name, his ears perked up. 

"What did you say, Mommy?"  He was so involved in his locomotive fantasy that he'd tuned me out from the moment he laid eyes on the toy.

"Nothing, honey."

As parents began to make their way out of the room and into the meeting area, I told Cael I'd be back in a few minutes and that he should keep playing and having fun.

"But where are you going?"

"Just to the meeting.  I'll be right back, okay?"

He didn't really answer.  I smiled at him and he watched me go through the door to listen to dates and times and allergy warnings.  I couldn't wait to get back to the room and hold his hand a little longer, to know that he still wanted me there and wasn't so grown up that he didn't need his Mommy.

When I did return, he was in the same spot where I'd left him, lounging comfortably but watching the door with intent.  I sat next to him, this little man I'd seen and touched every day of his life, and noticed how tall he'd grown.  His legs looked long and his hands were starting to look like his Daddy's.  I could imagine him at some point in the future-- sitting in a tiny chair next to his son, full of pride and hesitation as he wished him well for his first day of school.

I hope his youngest son doesn't lock him out that morning.

Before we left, I encouraged Cael to check out some of the play stations that were set up in the room.  He grabbed a chair at a table with a huge mound of Play-Doh and began carving away at it with cookie cutters and plastic scissors.  I watched him, waiting and almost hoping he'd ask me to make a train as he has so many times, but he stayed quiet.  In this place he can do the creating for himself, and I know he will sculpt many masterpieces over the next two years.

But he is my greatest masterpiece.  Not molded from clay or Play-Doh; not squeezed and poked and forced into shape, but a unique and perfect example of my love.  A love so strong that despite all of his mistakes and shortcomings and downright defiance, I want to hold his hand forever.  I want to keep a piece of him with me at all times so that I can kiss away his pain and smile at him when he is sad.

But he is growing, and a part of that growth means leaving my side sometimes.  And as much as it may make me ache, I will be waiting for him with arms outstretched and a heart overflowing with love.

A big, yellow, Play-Doh heart for my sweet boy, Cael.

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  1. This made me cry :) Could be the hormones but my little man starts on Friday...I think I am going to be a mess. I know he won't even look back!

  2. Right there with ya, Mary! Izzy started preschool yesterday, but her first day with me leaving her was today. She didn't even say bye! Just ran inside, washed her hands and started playing! Lol. Part of me was glad, the other part of me was like WTH? I only birthed you, but I at least deserve a "bye mommy." A hug would be nice' too! On the upside, she had SO much fun and was very excited to see me when I picked her up. Hope Cael has a great time! -Natasha

  3. Great post!! I'm not looking forward to the first day of school for sad how fast they grow!

    Cael looked stinkin' adorable in his first day of school outfit though--love the jacket!


  4. Sarah- I'm with you. My goal tomorrow is to hold it together until I'm to the car. If he sees me freak out, he might too!

  5. Natasha- Isn't that funny how they don't even look back? Everything is monumental to us and no big deal for them. I'm hoping that Cael is excited to see me tomorrow, too.

  6. Shawna- Thank you! I thought he did look exceptionally handsome. I mean, I know I'm biased, but he's a real stud.

  7. How sweet is he? My 3rd son started Pre-k this year! Yesterday was the first time in 3 weeks that he decided he didn't want to go. The reason: he doesn't like writing his name, and the teacher makes him before they can go outside!

  8. Tara- Well, either he will learn to love school or he will learn to hate his name! Just kidding... :)


Leave your own "ism". Cael and Graham double-dog dare you.