Months after my son’s first day of school, I can honestly say I haven’t moved past the initial sendoff.
The crunch of the holiday season should have pushed memories of fall on the cerebral back burner, but it’s taken some time to process that my baby is now a student. Each morning he rides off with other, bigger kids to a place where I’m not. Thinking about that initial shock still fills me with both head-swelling pride and full-blown anxiety.
At 8:20 that morning, we stand at our door, set for the big departure. It’s a crisp September morning. But I’m afraid that, somehow, we’ll miss the pint-sized preschool bus. I don’t know how small it is, exactly.
I look at Luke, my Big Proud Three-year-old in his maroon hoodie and slightly big-around-the-waist khaki pants, carrying a small canvas book bag embossed with Star Wars action figures, all ready. How is this possible?
We’re on time, miraculously, for the big day. We’ve eaten our cereal, brushed our teeth, we’re dressed. Even Baby Sister Sara Clare—all of two—has her play clothes on. I write “we” not to imply that I am in any way together, much less ready for work, but because I still think of my kids as part of me.
I peer out over the front stoop, making sure the bus isn’t at the stoplight, though with a screen door full of transparent glass, there’s really no way I could miss it. I keep looking back at Luke to make sure he’s still there, still my little boy.
Then, he announces he wants eggs.
My God, his wheatie O’s must not have cut it because clearly I’ve not given him a good breakfast. To the pan! No time for whisking in a separate bowl that makes the eggs light and fluffy! Milk goes right in skillet on top of the sunny-colored yolks. Five minutes later, both children have scrambled eggs, buttered toast and more milk in their cups. But at 8:25 with the bus due at 8:30, there’s no time to actually dine at the kitchen table, yards away from the full-on view of the road.
“Special treat!” Mama uses the code words that capture their attention quicker than our fat cats jump at the sound of dry cat food ringing in porcelain bowls. “We’re going to make egg sandwiches, guys! On the stairs!” In front of the door.
Anything that smacks of a picnic brings the troops to prompt attention. The kids toddle to the steps, plop down and attempt to fold a single piece of bread over their scrambled eggs. A mixed success, yellow morsels fall over the carpeted stairs and, of course, begin to grind their way in.
The kids looooovvveee eating those egg sandwiches on the steps. Big brother helps little sis by cramming tiny pinches of bread into her mouth and they’re giggling. I’m having fun, too, though I hover over Luke’s spanking-clean school clothes, all the while keeping an eye out for the bright-yellow kidnapping machine that will interrupt. I now hope it will roll merrily by.
Eggs finished more or less, we go outside. Sara immediately runs into a neighbor’s yard, out of my reach. Luke begins to dismantle a dead butterfly.
“Look, Mommy! His legs!” Luke holds up sad bugs appendages. The kids drift further away physically, but in other ways too. I try to put a positive spin on this realization and figure that with Luke’s dissecting abilities, he’ll ace biology.
Anxiety crowds in. Maybe it’s because somewhere in the recesses of our minds, mothers will always be preparing their children for the next step, though unsure about how the hell to do it. I don’t know how my little guy will react when the bus pulls up. His preschool is in our church so he’s seen his classroom, but this is different. New teachers, new kids, new smells, new structure. Though he’s only three, school implies expectation and I don’t know if I’ve prepped him well enough to compete or thrive with his peers who will have minds and three-year-old agendas of their own. And I can’t decide if it matters.
I check the sky, actually hoping for a sudden downpour. Luke has developed a sudden fear of water and yesterday a monsoon had moved in. “It’s getting deeper!” Luke wailed at the gushing water and clung on to me. We don’t know why water scares him. I hear that toddlers develop irrational fears without warning and I pray school’s not one of them. But, here on his first day, there’s no rain. No excuse to keep him inside in my cocoon.
When the bus comes, chills run down my damp back, which always seems to have a layer of permanent sweat these days. The miniature bus looks like a third of the size of school buses I remember, with twelve tiny toddler seats, belts dangling, their buckles clacking. I love it, I hate it.
My big boy climbs on, big as you please, with Mommy escorting him, per bus rules.
“I do it myself, Mommy.” He buckles up the belt with no help from me.
Snapped in place, he smiles so big my heart crumples into a million bits. His excitement is palpable—and hopefully contagious because the other kids looked kind of dour. I click a few pics for the memory book.
Sara Clare climbs on too, and plops in the seat opposite her brother. Getting her off the bus is no easy task. “Sara go to school!” she insists.
“Next year, baby.” Or maybe never.
As the bus pulls away, I hold her on the sidewalk as we look through the small windows and see a silhouette of Luke’s curly blond hair framed in the window. His hand is waving, he’s looking straight at me. He grins like Candy Land is awaiting him. And who knows? Maybe that’s how he sees it.
At least, that’s what I’ve told myself every day since.
Carol Kaufmann regularly shares her “Mama Tricks” with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest,National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology, A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, two children and two obese rescue cats.
First appeared on thewellmom.com, January 6, 2010.