We have all been there at one time or another… the start… the beginning of something new. Sometimes it feels scary like a tall looming cliff, an edge to unknown territory. Sometimes it can feel exhilarating, like stepping into something you have always dreamed of, or pictured in your mind’s-eye. But one thing you can be sure of it always brings a bevy of emotions, Starting something new is about all the feels.
If you can try to think back to your first day of kindergarten, or if you are like me and that memory might be a bit harder to access, try instead to remember the first day of kindergarten for your child. I can remember Addison’s first day of kindergarten clearly. I remember getting myself ready for her first day almost as much as I remember getting her ready. Addison was excited and filled with buzzing nervous energy, I was terrified and melancholy about this life changing start. You see I had been a stay at home mom since the moment she and I locked eyes on each other in that hospital room… and the past five years were a daily diary of loving, snuggling, playing, developing, supporting, interacting and managing her and her younger sister. This was going to be a huge change in my current job description. This was the start of the gradual release of Addison.
The walk to the bus was filled with non-stop chatter and questions from Addison. I tried to quietly respond while toting her three year old sister, Delaney, and trying to imagine the day without her nearby. When we arrived at the bus stop Addison’s energy and anticipation, along with the other kids waiting at the bus stop, was palpable. But as I searched the faces of the other parents to share a commiserating look, none of them made eye contact. They seemed just as lost in their own thoughts. Most of us at the bus stop were first time kindergarten parents and those who were seasoned at this were keeping their distance.
The big yellow school bus pulled up to the curb with a familiar squeaking noise. As the doors to the bus yawned opened so did the distant memory from my childhood of riding the bus. This sound of school bus brakes squeaking was now part of my daughter’s collection of memories… a new sound inviting my child to step away each day from the soft comfortable routine of her last 5 years and into the embrace, good, bad or ugly, of all that public school and life from here on out would offer her. I took a deep breath, looked into Addie’s big blue eyes, smiled a confident you-can-do-this smile and had to hope that all would go well.
I felt the triple squeeze of her warm hand, a signal meaning I love you from years of practice. Her tiny arms quickly wrapping around my waist for one last hug followed by a quick peck on the lips of her confused sister as she smiled brightly and scrambled up the too-tall steps. There was fear and doubt, mostly mine, but she was brave. Once seated she turned to the windows and waved with glee as the bus pulled away from the curb. We all waved until the bus crested the hill then quietly, like a dance, everyone at the bus stop turned and began their walk home. I blinked back tears. These tears were filled with acknowledgement of the first goodbye in a lifetime of goodbyes and letting go. As Delaney and I walked home I breathed deeply and prayed that she have a good experience. It was a BIG deal for sure. A huge cliff.
The nagging questions kept cropping up all day as Delaney and I stumbled through our new routine without Addie: Does she have to tools to be successful? Will she be kind to all her new classmates? Will they be kind to her (please, please, please)? Will she remember to get on the right bus home? Will her teacher like her? Will she like her teacher? Will school be something that she loves or loathes? Will she do well academically, emotionally, socially? Will she be safe? Will she make friends? Will others get her boldness? Will others see the amazing kiddo that she is? Will she be happy? Will I? And many, many more. Life was changed that day at the bus stop, it shifted and morphed into what was now the new routine.
It never ends, this saying goodbye to our children. Delaney followed Addie to school two years later with the same energy and gumption to take on the world. I was lucky I guess, some kids are terrified….mine ran into the world like a rookie firefighter running into a building knowing there were risks and braving them anyway. The beauty of this gradual release is the ability to say hello again at the end of the day. Each night our family sits down to dinner together and we share what we are thankful for and then a meal…some nights quickly and sometimes for hours. This is our time to say hello again and recharge, repair for our next goodbye. We have said our goodbyes and reunited with our hellos thousands of times, you would think we were well prepared for what was coming, but the next goodbye was going to be bigger… an enormous cliff.
Addie chose a University only an hour away, though she would not have a car so it could have been a world away. The drive the morning we took her to college was filled with constant chatter (mostly Addie), a signal we learned over the years was Addie’s coping mechanism to calm her nerves. Questions and comments filled the car. “Mom, did you remember to put in XYZ? Mom, did I pack the ___? How much longer until we get there? I wonder if my roommate will be there yet? I wonder what my roommate will be like? I think we might be early. I wonder if there will be parking? Where am I supposed to go to register?” Etc. Delaney sat silent next to her sister, internally mourning the loss of her best friend, while trying to remain externally happy and supportive. I answered the questions with short answers, knowing there would be more questions coming. Dad, well he is always the cool, calm collected voice of reason so he drove and patiently kept his eyes on the road. The anticipation of this new journey was vibrating through us all and we were all dealing with the looming goodbye in our own way. As we pulled up to the campus and the doors to our van opened we saw busy students all working to haul their stuff to their new rooms and keep their emotions in tact. It was a hive-like atmosphere; the energy buzzing around us, parents, students, siblings all humming and vibrating with anticipation.
We settled her into the dorm, officially checked in with the University walked around campus, explored little neighborhood shops nearby, attended the convocation and then it was time to say goodbye. It was time to drive away and leave our beautiful, bold, confident, determined, kind, brave and strong daughter behind. And without fail the nagging questions from kindergarten cropped right back up: Does she have to tools to be successful? Will she be kind to all her new classmates? Will they be kind to her (please, please, please)? Will she remember her way around the campus and to the safety of her dorm? Will her professors like her? Will she like her professors? Will college be something that she loves or loathes? Will she do well academically, emotionally, socially? Will she be safe? Will she make friends? Will others get her boldness? Will others see the amazing kiddo that she is? Will she be happy? Will I? And many, many more. Life, again, was changed that day as we pulled away from the dorm, the routine was changed, again.
This time it was if crack had been created in our hearts, severing a portion that would have to heal without the daily rip and repair of hello and goodbye. This goodbye meant more time and space between our connection, more individual work and effort to repair the hurt from goodbye on our own. Sure we could talk on the phone, or face-to-face (thank you technology) whenever we wanted but we would be unable to connect in the ways we had in the past. In fact, we ended up limiting phone calls and facetime to lessen the ache of not being together. Don’t get me wrong, we were excited to send her off to college and she was thrilled and ready, but it still hurt our hearts and we miss her mighty presence in our house, daily. Missing her is difficult to manage at times and at times it is quite easy. It is a wobbly ride and we are trying to get our bearings. I know there will be calm steady times and there will be rocky disorienting times… remember her sister is only two years behind her…yikes!
Then it happened… the day that parents of past college students tell you about. Addie called about a week into orientation. Classes still didn’t start for another few days and she was desperately ready for a regular routine. She was going to be coxswaining for the University men’s team but that didn’t start for another month. Clubs had not been set up and her roommate was gone, a lot. She was lonely, tired from the week of orientations and adventuring, hungry because she was not eating for fear of running out of dining dollars before that term was over, holed up in her dorm room and she was crying. This was SO HARD! She needed me and I was not there… rip… I felt that familiar kindergarten feeling from years past…I took a deep breath, looked into Addie’s big blue eyes (thanks to technology), smiled a confident you-can-do-this smile and had to hope that all would go well.
Goodbye for now,