Our freshly-four Sean starts preschool tomorrow, and I just got done crying.
He didn’t want to eat his dinner and I sat on his bed and asked him to tell me about his feelings, which he didn’t want to do, and finally I lay down next to him and told him that after his big sisters died my heart was broken, but when he was born loving him started putting my heart back together. I told him that when he was a tiny baby lying in my arms I would look at him and I hadn’t known till then what it was like to love someone the way I loved him.
Now he’s this little person, his own little person, and as he grows so does the mystery of him. I thought babies were hard to understand when Sean was a baby and that’s all I had, but now I know that babies are not so hard to understand, not compared to four-year-olds. Four-year-olds can be unfathomable. I lay next to Sean and touched his curly blonde hair and rubbed his back and thought about how his mind and heart and big huge feelings which most of the time he can’t cope with very well are this mystery to me. I see only the outward behavior, which a lot of the time can drive me nuts or leave me exhausted. Beneath that exasperating, exhausting behavior is this little heart yearning to be loved, to be known, as every heart wants to be loved and known, including mine.
And now for the first time that little heart will be setting off on an adventure that doesn’t include me. For the first time, I won’t be right there to correct or comfort or applaud or listen or warn or engage in every moment of this little adventurer’s life. My mama instinct, to protect and shelter, must step back and let him go, let him grow.
I’ve heard parenthood described as one long letting-go, and that feels pretty accurate tonight. Nate and I want to raise our kids to be confident in themselves, unafraid of the world around them, ready to meet challenges, to not let fear of failure stop them from trying. Much as my protective instinct would love to run ahead of Sean’s path and carefully sweep the road so that there’s not so much as a pebble for him to trip over, that would really be counterproductive.
Most of the time I don’t really know what I’m doing, being Sean’s mama. He shattered every pre-conceived notion I had about parenting, busted every formula, defied every plan I had of what our kids would be like. Case in point: I was going to replicate my own homeschooled childhood with our kids. That was the plan, up until two months ago, when after yet another meltdown on Nate’s shoulder, I finally was able to internalize that sending Sean to preschool– out-of-the-house, not-homeschooled-preschool– might actually be the best option for our family. Because our family is not my family of origin, Sean is definitely not the same kind of kid I was, and if I tried to replicate my own upbringing he and I might actually end up at each other’s throats.
So yes, I am weepy this evening, and I will also confess to feeling moments of almost giddiness at the idea of 16 hours a week where my personality and Sean’s personality won’t be at loggerheads. I had multiple moments today where I was on my last fraying threads of patience with Sean and gritting my teeth thinking, I’ve just got to make it to tomorrow, and then five minutes later he was donning his giant “safety” goggles and solemnly taking random toys out of his lunchbox with which to “doctor” me. And as he gravely stuck one end of an old guitar humidifier tube in his ear and held the other end smack in the middle of my boob so he can “listen to my tummy” I grinned in the sheer delight of him and thought how can I possibly let him go tomorrow?
It’s a tension. I think it’s okay to live in that tension. Feel all the feelings; they are all real, and none of them need to be ignored or stuffed.
So tomorrow will come and we will all commence our new schedule of rising at 7am instead of 8am, and hopefully Sean will eat his breakfast and I will hand him his new lunchbox and water bottle and give him a big hug and kiss and then he and Nate will get in the truck and drive away and I will probably go inside and have a big sloppy cry with Muriel.
And then I will have four hours of unusual quiet in the house (Muriel has opinions and she’s getting more and more verbal, but she still only makes about 20% of the noise) and it will be perfectly glorious.
It feels momentous to me, this next step in the long letting-go.
Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is.
I do not know how the journey will go, but I know Who lights the path. I know that the destination is always love. For me. For Sean.
Step out, my little adventurer.