Last September, I stood in my driveway on a cool autumn morning and watched my then 5-year-old beam with pride. After briefly struggling under the weight of his oversized backpack and kissing everyone goodbye, he was literally buzzing with excitement as the big yellow school bus pulled up. He bolted up the steps, found a friend to sit with, the doors closed, and off he went to kindergarten. The kid never even looked back to wave.
Which is to say it was a complete success, because that’s exactly how my wife and I wanted it.
There was no sobbing in the corner. No hand-wringing. No cursing of time and how it robs us of our little babies. No one jumped in the car to follow the bus like some crazed helicopter parent stalker just in case our little cherub had a tough time. Mainly because, in the weeks leading up to the big moment, we treated the first day of school as an exciting and joyously momentous occasion — something to celebrate instead of mourn and fear. And I firmly believe because we took that approach, so did he.
That stands in stark contrast to the script playing out for many other parents, and parent bloggers, who seem to dread the start of school. Some even seem to be making it about themselves instead of their kids.
Look, I get being astounded at how fast the time passes. And, as some pointed out, I also understand getting a little melancholy, or being so proud on the first day of school that you shed some tears out of happiness. While I completely get that we’re all different and so are our emotional responses, I think emanating a feeling of dread leading up to the first day of school — and then either crying or hovering in front of your kid on the day of — is a potentially terrible thing.
Our kids look to us for direction, so if we’re showing signs we’re upset about a huge transition, it stands to reason they’ll start getting upset and anxious as well. That’s why there was no crying on Will’s first day, and we didn’t go to the school with him to witness his transition into the classroom. MJ and I talked, and we thought getting sad in front of him and showing up at the school sends the message that something is wrong, there’s a reason to be sad, and he can’t do it on his own.
But he can do it. And he did.
Also, I know I’ve delved into this topic before, but I just don’t get the constant wailing about wishing we could turn back the clock. Parents of incoming kindergarten students, you have no idea what kind of amazing things you’re in for this year. If they can’t read already, suddenly they’re reading EVERYTHING. And if they can already read, their skills are sharpened exponentially and taken to the next level. Will grew so much in kindergarten both inside and outside of the classroom, and it was amazing witnessing his progress in real time.
Time flies and lamenting its passage is understandable to a degree. But as a parent, I just won’t let that sadness ooze out in front of him — especially not on the first day of school. I won’t turn something that’s supposed to be exciting into anything resembling a negative. Because as a Facebook acquaintance who works as a kindergarten teacher wrote:
“First day of school this year a mom started to cry…what does the boy, who was absolutely fine up to that point, do?? He starts crying – no wonder. If the mom cries the child gets the feeling something must be wrong or even bad about this place, so he starts crying too. The mom stayed all morning (Grrrrrr!!) and sobbed all morning long. Please, by all means go cry if it helps you, but do it AFTER you said goodbye and your child can’t see you anymore!”
See? It’s bad for the kid, the parents, and even the teachers. That’s why when Will has his first day of first grade tomorrow, it’ll be with a smile on all of our faces. A happy day with no tears. A day we’ve been looking forward to, and the start of a new chapter.
I’m saving the tears for three days from now when I’ll be having trouble helping Will with his first grade math homework.