My daughter’s first day of preschool was one of the worst days of my motherhood life. She was 3 years old, fully potty trained (which was the prerequisite) and as “everyone” said, now she “needed” to become socialized. She needed other children and well, frankly, I “needed” to get back to work. I was at the end of a three year self imposed hiatus since she was born, mostly because I couldn’t bear to leave her for more than a couple of hours. I was head over heels in love with her and wanted to be nowhere else. I had some part-time in home help but that was mostly to facilitate the other things I would be normally doing so that I was free to spend even more time with my daughter. After 3 years of that, and living off my savings as well as the equity in my house, I was broke and equity maxed out. It was time for mama to get back to work.
I took my tiny girl to a Montessori preschool in Altadena. The first morning I dropped her off felt like womb surgery without anesthesia. Walking out of the school yard I became aware that my daughter was tethered to one end of my intestines….. and somehow I was supposed to walk and walk and walk away, as my unraveling intestines stretched and pulled and stretched and pulled until taut and thinned and strained beyond bearing, either broken or torn or quite possibly having pulled out half my internal organs (heart, lungs, spleen, bowels, etc) spewing them all down Colorado Blvd onto the 2 freeway up the bloodied steps leading to my Mt Washington house. Exiting the gate to the piercing screams of my daughter, clearly discernible from the other desperate screams, I managed to drive about half a block before pulling my car over lest my heaving and weeping endangered others on the road as well as myself. I sat there for at least an hour crying my little heart out, helpless and desolate and feeling more than a little ashamed.
What was wrong with me? Other mothers seemed fine. They told me to do this, this awful gut wrenching act which went against every instinct in my body. This was supposed to be good for us!!!???!!!!
For two weeks, I tried. I would drop off my daughter – she would wail, I would weep. I’d “transition” her, drive half a block to my now very familiar spot under a big oak where I would sit and heave and blubber. After two weeks of this, I was still beyond sad and my daughter stopped singing in the car. Finally I said, “Fuck it.” No way in hell this could be good for either one of us. Clearly, I wasn’t ready for the “necessary separation” and neither was she. So, on that last Friday morning, instead of sitting under that tree and crying, I marched myself right back into that preschool, snatched up my child and said, “You know, this is not really a good fit. This is not working for us. Thank you so much. Bye bye!!!!” I pulled her out. WE SANG ALL THE WAY HOME!
I then proceeded to create my own preschool in my then over sized den, inviting three other families to pool our child care money to hire two teachers for our five children. That was one of my better ideas. Every morning, four happy children arrived at my house for a lovely day of fun and learning. No one cried. Mommas and babies left happy, happy. I’m still dear friends with those Mommas and our children are friends too.
This morning, I dropped off my daughter for her first day of 5th grade where she is now sharing the campus with the upper middle school…The Big Kids. When I asked, “Should I walk you to your classroom, she shooshed me away with, “No, Mom. I’m fine. Just drop me off.” After some whiny needling, she acquiesced. This was clearly a pity pass given to politely placate her pathetic parent. I didn’t care. I took it and ran. Watching my girl climb those stairs in her new uniform and cool sneakers, long legged and lovely, I felt the pride and joy tinged with that familiar touch of sadness. No weeping today as she walked away. Just a clear sense that my girl is fine.
How quickly it goes. Yesterday, I sat weeping under the oak. Today, I barely snuck past her embarrassment barriers to walk her to her class. I will blink and my sweet girl, my baby, will kiss me goodbye in front of a college dorm and patiently whisper…”Mom, I’m Fine”. On that day, I suspect I will put on my best game face, kiss her goodbye, drive half a block, and prayerfully find a sheltering oak under which I shall weep. It never ends… this tugging, umbilical cord loving that we have for our children. It just never ends.