As of 12:31 p.m. today, Fred, in his words, “becomes a first grader.”
This morning, right as Max was turning on the car engine to drive Fred to school, I ran out of the house yelling, “Wait for me!” and climbed into the front seat, confusing Fred. “Uh, are we still doing kiss and go [the car drop-off lane at school]?” he asked. “Why are you both coming?”
It’s bad enough that I cry at graduations of people I don’t even know. (Having worked at a university for a number of years, I’ve attended my share of commencements.) If I feel this way on the last day of kindergarten for my son, I’m not sure how I can handle his high school or college graduation in the future.
It was only late August that Fred and his fellow kindergarteners were still wearing those huge yellow cards around their necks on their way to school so that teachers and staff could easily identify and help them when they arrived. I remember the day when Fred wanted to buy lunch, and I attached a note to his shirt with a paper clip so as to make sure his teacher would know. And I remember how I would park the car and walk him to his classroom on the days we were late. Months later, I would drive and try to decide quickly, should I take him or just drop him off? And then, one day, I simply dropped him off without a second thought, and knew that he’d make it to his class alright without a personal escort.
I remember how, last summer before kindergarten, he could barely recognize most sight words. In fact, a year before that, when we moved here from Japan, he couldn’t even utter a single sentence in English. Yesterday he brought home a large packet of the work he had done this spring, along with his workbooks and journal. While he reads and writes at home, I hadn’t realized the extent of the work that he had done in school. “Here is my poetry journal,” he proudly showed me. We leafed through every page together, and he read to me the poems he had written as well as the ones he glued inside. In response to a question about where clouds go, he had written the following (spelling corrected):
Maybe you go to the other side of the hill.
Or you float to the sky.
Or you draw on the hill.
Or you could change into a crayon.
Or you could change into markers.
When the wind blows, the clouds changes into different shapes.
I started to cry, and I couldn’t stop. “Why are you crying, mommy?” Fred had asked, bewildered. Max told him, “Because she is happy.”
He had done so much growing when I wasn’t looking, when I couldn’t see him.
How do I describe this ache I have in my heart today, one that encompasses pride and joy and excitement and anticipation and intense love and sadness and fear and mourning? Fred saying good bye to kindergarten is a visual for me to see the rest of his life: him as a teenager, him as a man. Why do I fear losing him, when I know I’ll always be his mother?
I remember the day, nearly seven years ago, when my hand shook holding the thin plastic stick in the bathroom. As the blue rushed into pink and confirmed what I had suspected, I broke into tears. It was only a small part joy and a major part panic. I knew my life had changed, forever, in that instant.
And I remember, for a long time six years ago, how I had counted the months and the days and the minutes. I wanted to fast forward life during a time when time didn’t seem to be moving at all. I wanted to sleep. I wanted a child who could express his needs verbally. I wanted a child who didn’t need me as his personal mode of transportation. I wanted a child who could feed himself. I wanted more freedom and I wanted my child to grow up.
And growing up he is and has been doing, this whole time. How I now want time to stand still, or to even go back. How I want to hold Fred again as a baby, to nourish him from my own body and to have that quiet time together, just the two of us. How I want to listen to his babble and to imagine all the funny and curious things he is trying to say to me. How I want to carry him and show him the world from the safe distance of my arms. How I want to sleep right next to him, and soothe him when he wakes up, no matter how many times it takes.
Back in those days, it had been just the two of us…the two of us in our own private world, a world in which time seemed to stand absolutely still.