You expected me to cry, I bet.
Granted, I nearly lost it when I glanced over and saw my husband tearing up.
But I didn’t. I held it together.
It was time. Everything was signaling it – from the five year old’s dead-forward focus climbing up the bus steps and heading off to kindergarten, to the sudden drop in air temperature that had me scrambling for a toque, to the trees dropping their leaves, a metaphor I now treat as the season’s lesson in the art of letting go.
Maybe I didn’t cry because I’m genuinely excited for him. Or because I’m still a bit stunned to find myself here. Or because I can’t wait to run back to my computer and bang away uninterrupted for hours. Or to go to the toilet alone! Or maybe it’s because I was concentrating so hard on getting it right. How exactly do you launch a human being into an uncertain world?
I packed an excess of snacks. I said, “Have a great day.”
And then just let go.
It’s not as if I could give him any last minute advice. What could I tell him? I’ve had five years to prepare him for the first day of kindergarten, and the Morning Of is officially the point of no return. I wish I’d been more cognizant of that.
And yet, I’m pretty sure if I had asked him “what do you think is important to remember today?” that he’d say, “be kind and be a good listener.” I figure that’s as good a place to start as any.
He’ll pick up the rest on the fly.
It’s hard to sit with that, that he will work it out as he goes.
He will work it out on his own. But he won’t be on his own. It just won’t be me running interference.
This lesson keeps coming back to me, the defining theme of my experience of motherhood: I’m totally unprepared, but whatever I need, I have within me. And the shortfall will be made up by the people around me.
The week before school started, we headed off to the Pemberton Farmers’ Market, toting our garden’s most giant zucchini. We were geared up to participate in the second annual zucchini derby. We had our squash, the craft supplies would be provided, we couldn’t wait. But when we arrived, the race ramp was already the centre of activity, and all the kids who’d already built their zucchini vehicles at home were entering the derby.
I felt a surge of panic, a definite sense of having let the kid down. Why hadn’t we built the stupid zucchini vehicle at home? With a garage full of tools and industrial glues and a very handy Dad and a cupboard full of monster trucks and Lego and other wheeled things…?
As I quietly freaked out, the five year old went to work, exploring the basket of supplies that Molli Reynolds, Farmers Market Manager extraordinaire had supplied, scooping out little seats, sticking skewers in random places, tying ribbons and flags around it. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t going to roll. I felt the limitations of my inventor skills. Then the other kids came over, excited by the chance to start making all over again, and suddenly five heads came together to try and solve the problem of getting us ready to race.
Wheels were found. The zucchini became roadworthy. It was tested, improved, raced again. I stepped back and watched my little boy have a deep and genuine experience of collaboration, persistence, creativity, community – things I could never have engineered for him by carefully crafting a zucchini truck via youtube instructional video at home, by “setting him up for success.”
He’s showing up to kindergarten in the same way. A pack of snacks, empty hands, an open mind. And it will come together. I know it will. I trust it will. I have experienced it myself. I was reminded of it again at the Farmers Market. I keep reminding myself. And I give myself permission to just be excited for him, for the beautiful, spontaneous, sweet ways that it will all play out, the ways I can not envision or engineer.
When he stepped onto the bus, with his 12 year old neighbour as a self-appointed chaperone, the driver greeted him with a huge smile and a kind word, and I felt this stark and sudden realization: I am more dependent on the kindness of the world than ever.
I wanted to hug the neighbour kid, the bus driver, the person in the car behind the bus patiently waiting for the red lights to stop flashing. But they’re not my relationships now. They’re his.
And these are not my stories any more. They’re his.
I cannot run interference, I cannot provide protection, I cannot navigate the world ahead of him, offer translations, intervene in conflicts. I cannot engineer the situations so that things go smoothly, don’t hurt, so that the friendships are ready-made and waiting.
I have to trust him to find his own way. And I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.
All that is left for me to do is be kind – not to be a good person, or feel high on myself, but because I need people to care about a random child. Mine. I need others to extend the net of love and concern beyond their own inner circle, beyond their own loved ones. I can’t go out ahead of him and clear the path, but I can let him make his own, and put out into the world the exact kind of energy that I want him to bump into, and hope that it grows, exponentially, around us all.