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No More Preschoolers

Published in the Gazette September 8, 2002

My last parenting column

          You’re not sure when you first noticed, but it might have been the time you saw a cluster of moms with strollers at the park, and you realized you no longer owned a stroller.

            Or maybe it was this spring when you were walking around the block with your youngest.  You thought, “This might be the last time I go for a walk on a sunny weekday morning in spring with a child holding my hand.”

            Or maybe it was before then, on one of those days when you waited to pick up your youngest at preschool.  You were the only one in the hall not holding a baby or a toddler, the only one who would not be standing in that hall next year.

            You joke with the kids about it while you’re hanging out at the pool.

            “I used to have one of those,” you say, pointing at a fat baby in someone’s arms.  “In fact, I had two.  I just cannot imagine what happened to them.”

            Your kids look momentarily startled, then they chime in unison.  “They’re us!  We got big!”

            Nowadays you get your baby fix from friends who have babies.  Though you no longer do it regularly, holding a fussy baby or talking to a toddler comes back to you like second nature.  Much to your surprise, your friends consider you a kind of expert.  They ask you questions.

            “When should I start feeding him solids?”

            “When will she sleep through the night?”

            “Where did you send your children to preschool?”

            You find yourself able to respond, sometimes with advice, but more often with the sympathy of experience.  You remember those agonizing stages:  wondering if your child would ever sleep all night, eat regular food, stop wearing diapers.  And you realize that the stages we agonize over are the ones that carry our children out into the world.

            People with older children keep telling you how great it’s going to be once that little one goes off to kindergarten.  How you’ll have so much more time to yourself, for your work.  How things will be so much easier for a while (until they become teenagers).   You’ll be turning cartwheels, one mom predicts.  You smile and nod.

            Still, you wonder what it will be like on that first/last day, the day school starts and your life opens up.

            It goes something like this:

            You walk into the school with both of them, and drop the second-grader off with little fuss.  He walks energetically into his room, smiling at his friends and looking for the teacher.  The door closes behind him; there are no parents in the room.  You watch from the window as he turns and waves at you.

            Then you walk down the hall to the kindergarten room, the little one holding your hand very tightly.  When the teacher walks over and greets him by name, he lets go.  You get him settled at his table, the backpack hung up, the name tag on.  He had asked on the way to school if you could just stay at school with him, please, but when you stoop to kiss his head and say goodbye, he says “OK. Bye, Mom.”

            You know that he’ll be fine, he’ll be happy.  And you walk out of that classroom, down the hall and out the door of the school without him, without anyone.  You walk to the van and sit in the driver’s seat with your forehead pressed to the steering wheel while you cry.  Then you sit up, wipe your face with the back of your hand and start the engine. 

            Ready or not, it’s time for the next stage.