Friday, September 5, 2008

That Lump-in-the-throat Feeling

Today I dropped off my very self-assured, confident, fearless preschoolers just one year after their very first day in preschool.

As I entered the preschool, its lobby decorated with back-t0-school welcome signs and helpful arrows pointing the way to each of the classrooms, I watched the nervous parents clutching their wary toddlers' hands or hugging them close, anxiously contemplating the parting about to come.

Walking in with my own kids, who now are preschool vets as comfortable at school as they are at home, I felt that curious mixture of sadness and pride that comes with the now familiar pang of separation. Last year, my kids clung to me like a lifeboat in a turbulent sea, even as they eyed the enticing projects set up for them in the classroom, and the other kids already assembled and singing for circle time. This year, after helping me put their things in their cubbies, and asking for a hug and a kiss, there was a brief bout of protest: "Mommy, I want you to stay," and some hand-tugging in the general direction of the tables laden with craft projects beckoning their little fingers. But within a moment, after the hugs and kisses were administered, I was out the door and they were busy, neglecting to even give me a longing look back.

As I walked out of the building, I spotted one of the school administrators calming a worried mom, and a husband and wife leaving, holding hands and consoling each other. They'd just experienced the milestone of their first preschool drop-off, and they, too, were feeling pangs.

I couldn't help but flash back to myself a year ago. I'd taken the day off from work to be available to hang around the school and retrieve the kids or return for a visit if the day was proving too stressful. At first I sat in the lobby with other moms, while school staffers ambled back and forth between us and our toddlers in the classroom, bringing us back updates on how our little cubs were doing in their new den. (Appropriately, their class was called the Teddy Bears). Gently, they encouraged us to go out for coffee, or better yet, stay away until the afternoon, and come pick up our kids not quite at what would be their normal pick-up time, but not too long before it. I remember aimlessly wandering over to a GAP store and realizing I could shop -- not for my kids, but for myself, a rare luxury. I remember also feeling strangely unmoored and adrift. I couldn't help myself a bit later, and I called to see how the kids were doing without me. The report came back: just fine.

Later that day, I'd returned to pick them up, and they ran to me with surprised and delighted faces, thrilled to be reunited, but also excited to show me just what they'd been doing. And in the weeks and months that would follow, the scene would replay itself again and again ...

Nowadays when I pick them up from preschool, they don't always shout gleefully and run hell-bent for my arms when they see me. Sometimes it takes me twenty minutes to coax them out of the play yard where they've been doing an obstacle course with the other kids, or out of their classroom, where they want to stop and play with toys. Some days, we spend what feels like a decade in the restroom before we go home. And the ride home, during which snacks MUST be served, is a mixture of recited songs, brief answers to my queries about what they've done all day, and of course, arguments over toys and snacks during which I've gotta drive and play referee and designated retriever of all things dropped on the car floor.

We've got a routine down now. It's dad who does most of the drop-offs, so I can get started on work and end in time to pick them up while he stays at his office and toils later. The kids know what to expect at school, and most days, they actually want to go. They're stimulated constantly there, mostly happy, and wildly busy when not napping or snacking. Preschool suits them just fine.

But this morning, walking back to my car, I couldn't help but flash back to a year ago. My eyes teared up a bit, my throat swelled. In some ways, I'm relieved I don't have to worry about that preschool transition. But I'm also sad because I'll never have that milestone again.

I'm proud that my kids can walk away from me after that hug and kiss and get busy having fun without me. But I have to admit I really live for those afternoons when they catch that first glimpse of me from across the play yard, and race into my open arms.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Wait until they are off to junior high school, feeling both independent yet unsure. That lasts about 5 minutes but it does bring back all of the first days! love the entry and you.