The Heartache of the First Day of Preschool

And just like that, he’s gone. Out of my arms and off to the Play-Doh table, without a second glance. A hug, a kiss, “Bye, Mommy!” as if this isn’t a momentous day at all. As if it isn’t steeped in heart-wrenching nostalgia. An almost intolerable foreshadowing of things to come.

For him, this first day of preschool is simply another new thing that’s happening in his life. Another fun place to play. More nice grown ups to pay attention to him. New toys to explore, fun activities to do. A place we’ve been talking about for months now. Familiar, almost.

I watch my little boy run excitedly away from me and a door in my mind opens. Time unrolls its cruel red carpet. And there he is at five, at twelve, at fourteen. He waves goodbye, he adjusts his backpack, he walks away. And there, down at the end of the hall, there he is at eighteen, surrounded by boxes, a room key in his hand. He waves goodbye, closes the door, and he’s gone.

I’ve never been particularly nostalgic about the infant phase. I don’t long for those sleepless nights, the red-faced, screaming, non-verbal blob-ness of it all, the spit up, and the diapers, and the long hours alone with no one to talk to. So it’s not that I want him to be a baby again (God forbid!), it’s only that I don’t know where the time has gone. I don’t know how we got so quickly from there to here.

And my heart, bursting with pride, is also breaking. A chapter of our lives is suddenly, startlingly over. Like reaching the end of a book when you thought there were still more pages left to go. A shock to the system. Jarring. Because we will never spend as much time together, never need each other as much, as we did when he was home with me all day. Well, he won’t need me as much. I’ll still need him. Desperately.

Did I appreciate what I had? That brief little sliver of time when he emerged from infancy and was suddenly a little person, making jokes, telling stories, staring wide-eyed as I explained the world. I did, and I didn’t, I suppose. I loved it, but I think, somehow, I forgot it would end.

It’s not even really that our lives have changed so much. It’s preschool (mornings only!), not a mission to Mars. But his world is widening, his trajectory is up and away, and it’s me he must move away from. My job, as a parent, is to be left behind. To not hold on yelling “Take me with you!” and running into the wind. I must let a piece of my heart drift further and further away from my body and rejoice in it. Because that is how it’s meant to be. No matter how much it hurts to be so torn asunder.

When I come to pick him up from school he flings himself into my arms, wraps his legs around my waist, covers me in kisses. “Mommy!” he yells delightedly. And I hold him, and I hold him, and I hold him. How did I not know this was finite? How did I let myself forget? I bury my face in his soft, baby hair. He will go from me, yes. But not yet. No, not yet.