Dispatch from Home: A parting of ways

"My son's first day of school was as perfect as it could be. Uneventful even. Except for one little thing. My broken heart."

He did not cry or carry on the way I had thought he might. No, my son woke up and calmly got up to get ready for his first day of preschool. No whining, no crying, no pleading.

I had been the one to agonize over this day, our first official parting of ways. He's nearly four years old, but has never been in daycare and is usually by my side. Tossing and turning all night long, I had been unable to sleep, worrying about everything. Would we be late to school ? Would the drive to school prove to be too long? Would he refuse to stay by himself at school? Would he cling to my leg? Would my younger daughter cry uncontrollably when separated from her brother? Would other kids tease him? Would he refuse to eat the lunch I packed for him? And on and on ...

As it turned out, the answer to all these questions was a resounding no. My son's first day of school was as perfect as it could be. Uneventful even. Except for one little thing. My broken heart.

After I dropped off my son at school, I had to will myself to walk away. "One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other," I told myself. I swallowed hard as though a large piece of bubblegum was lodged in my throat, then felt my face getting hot and tears brimming over. I looked down at my daughter's tiny hand in mine and saw that she was looking at me with a puzzled look.

At nearly two years old, my daughter had rarely been away from her brother. Almost everything we do, we do together. Now, she looked at me as though wondering why we were leaving her brother and she pointed to the small tan building where we had just left him.

I set aside my brooding thoughts, smiled and said, "Hey baby girl, let's go have some fun at the park. Brother is going to be in school for a few hours." She perked up instantly at hearing the word "park."

As we walked to the park, I reminded myself that this gradual separation is how it's supposed to be. My job is to inspire and help my son become the best person that he can be. This is what mothering is about, but it is also about giving him the space and freedom to do so. What's more, I felt he couldn't be at a better school. I had always been torn about preschool even before my son had been born, believing that kids should be allowed to play and explore freely without too much structure in their day.

Preschool, I felt, would hinder that and I didn't want him to be tied down to schoolwork too early. Along the way, though, I realized that preschool has become like the new kindergarten and I didn't want my son to be at a disadvantage when he did start kindergarten. More importantly, my son began to tell me he wanted to go to school. Around that time, we started visiting preschools and found one we both liked.

The school we chose has adopted the Reggio Emilia approach to educating kids, creating a curriculum that allows children to have a say in their day as teachers plan activities based on the kids' interests. I'm told teachers are given ample staff development time to plan these activities, which allow plenty of room for "creative thinking and exploration." Even more encouraging, the arts play center stage. There is so much more to the Reggio Emilia-inspired schools and their way of teaching, but I wholeheartedly agree with everything I've read on it. My online and personal dealings with the teachers and administrators of Reggio Emilia-inspired schools have only reinforced my trust in them.

The "spaceship" above is an example of the kind of learning taking place at my son's school. The kindergarten students wanted to build a spaceship so they did. The resulting structure now serves as a playhouse and theatre, where they sing, dance and enjoy other activities.

While my son was at preschool that first day, I decided to embrace the time I had alone with my daughter. We went to the park and then to the bookstore to read books, enjoying each other's company, unencumbered by the needs of anybody else except hers.

I held her tight upon leaving the bookstore, relishing these rare moments alone with my daughter. I missed my son dearly, much more so than I ever anticipated but I guess I had unwittingly grown used to my son's constant chatter and questions. He also has a budding sense of humor and keeps me laughing all day. I felt like the day was missing my little ray of sunshine.

Of course, I mentioned none of this to my son. I did say we missed him and his sister hugged him after his schoolday as though they hadn't seen each other in weeks. But I felt it was important to welcome these changes in our life in a positive way by focusing on all the fun and learning that his new school would bring.

"Mama, can I come back to school?" he asked me as we left the school.

He'd enjoyed his day at school and that was all that mattered to me. When we got home, I told him that we celebrate the important days in our lives and that this day is definitely one of them. "A toast to a great First Day of School," I said, lifting an ice cream cone into the air and tapping my son's cone with it.

My son bit into his ice cream cone. We ate ice cream together as my younger daughter slept, her baby gurgling sounds occasionally coming from the monitor.


Sharyn said...

Beautiful. You almost made me cry!

Heather said...

Oh my goodness...it's heartbreaking! I was sobbing when I dropped my niece off at her second day of kindergarten! I'm glad he liked it though, and I'm sure he's going to have some great stories for you!

Grace@PoeticHome said...

What a wonderful, honest, and inspiring story of a first day! I'm pregnant with my first child, and I can already imagine the heartache from the first day of preschool. I'm really intrigued by your son's preschool philosophy -- it resonates with me!

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