Recently I met a mom at a park, who eyed my large brood and asked if we were ready for school to start. As we chatted, she told me that her son would be starting kindergarten.
“He’s my first, so I’m really struggling with it,” she said to me.
I squinched up my face and tried to remember sending my first off to kindergarten. Did I walk in with him, take pictures, stage a cute photo shoot? Did I struggle?
Well, this was a decade ago, before Pinterest had a firm grip on creativity, inspiration, and tradition. I think I snapped one picture of him before we left that morning, loaded him in the car, and dumped him off in the car rider line before heading to work. I must have been a little emotional, because I was distracted and got pulled over for speeding- ugh. But mostly, sending my firstborn out into the world was not a difficult task for either him or me.
Fast forward ten years, and I’ve added to the crew substantially. Now we have a blended family with four kiddos, and the youngest one started kindergarten last year. I staged a cute photo shoot, took pictures of every aspect of his morning, walked him in to class, held back tears and said, “Mommy loves you” in a trembling voice.
Why was it easier to let my first kid head off to kindergarten than my last? Shouldn’t I be an old pro by now, more laid back and less neurotic?
It’s exactly because I am an old pro that it is harder to let my youngest go. I know how fast the time goes, I know that one minute you have a kid with silky hair who scribbles with crayons and wants to hold your hand, and then you blink and that’s all gone. Texting replaces talking, your heart-to-hearts take place not during a languid trip to the park but in the car as you dash from one activity to another, and your kid needs you less and less.
There is a unique heartache involved with sending your last kid out into the world. Psychologists say sometimes you have to hold both grief and joy at the same time, and man, that resonates with me.
I’m so happy that my youngest has older siblings to look up to, and that he’s more precocious and confident because of it. I’m so proud that he was more excited than nervous about kindergarten, and that he told me “I’m fine, Mom. Bye.” Yet I was still so emotional walking out of that kindergarten hallway.
All of his firsts are my last firsts.
His biggest moments will be my last moments as a parent. Last Field Day, last dance, last graduation. So in all of those moments, with this baby of mine, I will be more tearful, more vulnerable, and more grateful.
Turns out that holding both grief and joy is heavy.
But parenting is like fitness training….the further you get in your journey, the more weight you can carry.