Kindergarten's Biggest Lesson: Letting Go

So many things about parenthood are difficult: the sleepless nights, the potty training, the disciplinary issues, the self-doubt that you will mess up this tiny creature. (You know you will mess them up; it’s just in what manner will you do it and how much therapy will they need to fix the damage).

There are volumes of books written about parenting, and everyone and their mother will give you unsolicited advice. But the most difficult part of being a parent doesn’t much get talked about: It’s the letting go.

Today is my daughter's first day of kindergarten. She has graduated from a loving, in-home preschool with seven kids to a big, inner city public school with nearly 30 kids in her classroom. She has been understandably anxious.

My husband and I have been understandably anxious.

We have done all we can to prepare our shy girl. We took her to meet the teacher. We went over what her school day will look like. We talked about the fun things she will do and the friends will meet.

She is as prepared as she can be. After her initial adjustment, I'm sure that she will shine. 

But how do you prepare yourself for days like these? Days when you are both proud yet mildly terrified? Days when their tiny pink backpacks look enormous clinging to their backs? Days when you wonder if your child will have the courage to raise her hand if she needs to use the restroom? Days when you agonize over how long it will take her to find her tribe? Days when you try to work but your heart is listening to the clock’s tick, waiting to pick her up so you can confirm that everything went Ok?

These are the days, when as a mother, I wish I could wrap my daughter in bubble wrap and lock her in a room. But, of course, then she wouldn’t be a vibrant, imaginative 5-year-old. She would instead be a socially awkward, very pale freak of nature.

These are the days when I wish I could shield her shining sweet soul from all that is awful and painful in this world.

These are the days when I wish I could protect her from life’s inevitable hurts, be it from bike crashes, mean girls or first love. 

These are the days when I must remember that protecting my daughter is only part of my job. The other part is teaching her to live life to its fullest.

From the moment our children are born, our job as mothers (and fathers) is to teach our children how to survive. Part of that is teaching them to thrive without us. It is a hard job to teach someone how to not need you.

When I looked at my daughter this morning, I saw the baby face I met the day she was born. I saw the toddler taking her first steps. I saw the 3-year-old riding her first bike. I saw a timid little girl taking on a big challenge.

Oh, how I desperately wanted to carry her backpack for her.

But I could not. Because in her brave face, I could also see glimmers of her future 15-year-old self, glimmers of the woman she will become. As nervous as she was, she needed to don that backpack and face her new world on her own.

So I did what a mother is supposed to do.

I took a deep breath, I put my trust in her and I let go.  

And then, I went home and cried.

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