Even though I’ve been preparing all weekend, I’m still not ready the morning of my son’s first day of kindergarten. It’s a lot to get three kids 5 and under dressed, ready, and out the door at a specific time, especially when that time is 8:30 a.m. Still, we make it out the door with just enough time for me to hand my son the first day of kindergarten sign and snap a couple pictures. We try to get a group picture but it’s pandemonium, so I scrap the idea and we drive to school. I ask him if he’s excited, try to talk up kindergarten, and brace myself for tears. I wait for the big feels of motherhood to overwhelm me, but when I drop him off that first morning, it doesn’t feel like the world is being pulled out from under my feet. I’m not sad my son is starting kindergarten. In fact, I’m relieved.
I exhale deeply as I get into the car, realizing that for the entire ride home there will be no bickering. No one will be touching or almost touching or making an offensive noise just to piss the other off. I will not have to regulate and separate all day long when playtime turns to wartime. My daughter will get the undivided attention she so desperately craves while the baby is napping. I might, though I dare not dream it out loud, get to pee with the door closed at some point during the day.
I know that my son, for once, will have no lack of interaction. He can talk to his heart’s content with other kids who have the same level of enthusiasm about life in general. He will be constantly occupied, his mind not slowly unraveling with boredom. His hands will be busy. His brain will be busy. He’ll have two long, wild recesses. I won’t have to get him a snack every five minutes from sun up till sundown. The long list of pros keep flooding my mind, and I wonder if there is any sadness to come.
After a long hard summer of fighting siblings and relentless entertaining, I have never felt so ready for my son to start kindergarten. I want to send him away for six hours a day. Does that make me a monster?
I post the photograph of my son with the sign to social media. I receive texts and comments throughout the day asking how I am holding up. I reply that I’m fine, not wanting to reveal my true feelings of joy and relief and calm. I know I’m supposed to be sad. I’m supposed to be having an existential crisis over my baby growing up. But after a long hard summer of fighting siblings and relentless entertaining, I have never felt so ready for my son to start kindergarten. I want to send him away for six hours a day. Does that make me a monster?
It would be one thing if I only felt joy because I knew that this is what’s best for him — because his happiness is my happiness. That's true, of course, but it's not the only reason I’m thrilled my son is starting kindergarten. Part of the reason I’m not sad is because it's nice to have a break from him. It’s feels good to be relieved of this large swath of motherhood for most of the day, and most of the week. There are moments, especially later in the day, when I'll miss him, but by that point it'll almost be pick-up time. The truth is, I don’t long for him until he is already in my arms again.
Why should I grieve a good thing? Why should my heart break over kindergarten?
I keep expecting to feel sad, to grieve the passage of time like I know I should, but it never comes. At the end of the day I am excited to pick him up, to hear about his all his firsts, and to send him back again the next morning and the morning after that. I am ready for this new phase of life, and I know he is too. Why should I grieve a good thing? Why should my heart break over kindergarten?
Relief, joy, happiness — perhaps these are not the “right” emotions, but they are mine and I am glad for them. When my son comes home each day after school, I am excited to see him instead of mulling over how I’m losing him to the too-fast pace of time. I'm able to enjoy my time with him more fully because I'm not burnt out by his never-ending needs. Kindergarten is making me a better mother, and I’m not about to go looking for an excuse to cry over it when I can simply be happy for my son, for me for both of us.