First Day Jitters

by local writer Mollie Bryan

Two weeks ago, Emma started preschool. We thought it would be good for her to mingle with other children, get outside stimulation in a learning environment, and to learn to be away from me—even if it’s only 3 half-days a week.

I was a little nervous, I admit, about seeing my 2-year-old baby march off to school. But, I also felt it would be good for us both. I began to formulate plans on the new nine hours of free time I was going to be blessed with.

First, it would give me quiet time to focus on my work; maybe I would finally get my house in order; and hey, I might write that write great American novel. I could also watch a television program all the way through. Better yet, I could read a book. I may have a little time to just sit and stare off into space—a very important step in the writing process. Little did I know that I would spend at least half of Emma’s first day at the kitchen table, bawling like a big baby. The best laid plans....

Okay, so I know it will take a little adjustment—for us both. I was prepared for that. But nobody can prepare you for the utter emptiness, fear, and confusion. And then, there was this—she just walked in and made herself comfortable, began gluing paper hearts together, without even taking her coat off or looking up at me to say goodbye. She was doing much better than me. And I did not know how to feel about that. What am I—chopped liver? Emma has always been very secure in her skin. She walks into the library at Mother Goose Story Time and has been known to hug and kiss all of the other children there and then do a little dance for all of them. She waves and talks to total strangers in the grocery store. And she rarely fusses when I have to leave her with her Dad or other family member. We often joke that we wondered if she felt any differently about us, than, say the librarian, or her Aunts.

But, on the third day, something clicked in her. It was as if she became a completely different child. Emma’s Dad and I took her to school and she fussed, I mean really fussed. I thought it was because he was with us—a new variable in the routine.

The fourth day, and the next week, the same thing happened. She clung to me like never before. I stayed as long as I could. I had scheduled a meeting at 10:30. I watched the clock ticking toward ten and finally she seemed to be occupied enough for me to slip out. I felt bad about that, of course, because we did not kiss good-bye.

But as the days progress, it seems to be the only way. Get her occupied and sneak out as quickly as I can. The thing is, she is never really fooled. She soon realizes that I am gone and I can hear her cry for me as I walk out the door. It takes everything in me to keep walking.

After talking to several other parents, and Emma’s doctor, I know that this is a normal stage for her. The fact that she feels attached to me is a good thing. But it feels so weird. How do I know that I am not doing permanent damage to her as I walk away while she is screaming for me? How do I know that she will not grow to resent me for this? How do I know that she is ready for this and that I am not putting my own needs ahead of hers? I try to take solace in the fact that the others I’ve spoken to all say that she just needs time and that she will grow to love it—like the other children who attend her school in Waynesboro. I keep repeating it over and over in my head, She will be fine, just like the other kids. This is a good thing. Intellectually, I am convinced. But my heart, well, that is another matter.

I was listening to a woman I know speak about her 14-year-old son going on his first double date—his girlfriends sister and boyfriend were taking them—and driving them. “I know my heart is going to be in my mouth the whole time they are gone.” It struck me then, as it does from time to time, that this parenting thing ain’t for sissies. Letting go of our children, whether for preschool, dating, or college, never is easy. Much depends on the grace with which we handle it.

While I am waiting for that grace to descend on me, you can find me at the kitchen table.

Mollie is a freelance writer living in Waynesboro with her husband and two daughters, Emma and Tess. She is a parenting columnist for the Daily News Leader and a gardening columnist for Augusta Country. She is currently writing a biography of Mildred Rowe of Mrs. Rowe's Family Restaurant in Staunton.

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