“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori | These words have never been more real to me as when we were recently preparing to send our 16 month old “pandemic baby” out of our home bubble and into the real world…of pre-school!

In the almost year and a half of being new parents in a pandemic, the two most prevalent feelings have been relentless anxiety (over nearly everything these days) with bursts of complete and utter excitement (all his milestones and firsts that we were fortunately present for).

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So it’s no surprise that both of those feelings had dominated my thoughts over the past few weeks as we prepared to send him to school for the very first time. Of course, the number one item on the anxiety list was the prospect of bursting the home bubble we’ve so meticulously implemented throughout the pandemic—so much so that our son had never even been in the same room with another child since the pandemic started. Those of us with pandemic-era babies have had to navigate parenthood so differently than we could have ever imagined, so the idea of sending him to school was by all measure both terrifying and exhilarating.

But as he’s getting older and as his incredible personality is starting to show, it seemed more and more that he was ready for something more–something beyond the confines of our home and beyond what we could provide him in terms of social development. A structured environment that incorporated not just play, but foundational skills of learning how to become a functional and independent human being was exactly what we were looking for. And of course an environment with rigorous Covid safety protocols, small class size and open communication with his teachers allowed us to feel confident that we had chosen the right school. So after more than a year in lockdown coupled with signs of hope that things are slowly getting safer, we weighed our fear of him joining the “real world” in this way against his growing needs for independence/social development and realized that sending him to school was the right thing for all of us.

Yet despite my logical side knowing all this, my emotional side would occasional betray this rational. As his first day approached, we had numerous Zoom meetings with his teacher, the school admins and even got to virtually meet some of his classmates’ parents.  He was even able to meet his teacher during an outdoor meet-and-greet. We started reading him a sweet little board book all about starting pre-school and narrated to him that he’d be having a similar day as the protagonist of the story. We felt as prepared as we could possibly be, but the night before his first day, I could not sleep a wink as my thoughts were consumed with what-ifs of a pandemic baby.

What if we drop him off and he starts crying uncontrollably?”  “What if he freaks out being in a room with new children?”What if he throws his first epic tantrum and smashes all the toys/materials in the room?” I mean the list went on and on! At the same time, I was so incredibly excited for him to experience several firsts. Making his first friends. Using a (kid sized) toilet for the first time! Taking care of his first plant. Napping on a cot. Having the chance to be apart from us for the first time since the pandemic started (this was a plus for him as well as for me because let’s face it, while every single day with a growing toddler has its fun moments, it also becomes more and more challenging). Because of how perceptive children are to the emotions of their parents, I made a pact with myself that I would allow myself to freak out and feel all the feels anytime BEFORE I woke him up to start his day that morning.

Once I got that out of my system, I managed to keep my anxiety in check as we continually communicated with him about the new and exciting day he was about to experience. We arrived at school, his teacher took his temperature and unbuckled him from his car seat, we waved and said “Have a great day! Mommy and Daddy love you and we’ll see you when you wake up from your nap!”. As we drove away, we could see him waving at us and calmly walked up the path into the classroom. To our absolute amazement, he had an incredible first day with not a single tear shed! We were told that his day was filled with pure wonderment at his new friends and with pretty much everything within the new environment.

Through this experience, I’ve learned that we don’t give children nearly enough credit for what they are actually capable of. It’s so easy to see them as helpless little humans who need everything done for them, but in fact when given the opportunity to explore and try things on their own, it’s mind-blowing to see that they possess the skills to do and learn many things, if just given the opportunity to try. With each passing day, I know in my heart that we made the right decision and I’m looking forward to seeing my pandemic baby continue to thrive!

Martine is a native New Yorker who (along with her husband Chris) lived in several different cities over the course of a decade until fate brought them to Austin, where they would finally plant roots and start a family. Even though they live far from their respective families and miss them dearly, they are loving raising their first child--a curious, brave and hilarious 15-month-old boy named Julian and their dog Coco in this great city. Despite being more than a year into this wild ride called parenthood, she still feels like a newbie mom and knows there is a ton more to learn about her amazing child, husband and herself as they navigate this new and exciting life together. Passions include travel, live music, spontaneously dancing to her perfectly curated Spotify playlists and doing silly things to make her son laugh!

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