Like most moms sending their kids off to school for the first time, I shed a few tears leading up to the big day—mostly because I’ve loved being a stay at home mom to two little ones, and I wasn’t ready for that to change. I realize that I’m still ‘staying at home’ with my youngest, but I miss hanging out with my big guy. Moreover, having a child formally start school has been a psychological milestone that, frankly, I’ve chosen to avoid until this program materialized. His big first day brought me one day closer to returning to the workforce full-time—a transition I both welcome and fear. During the past four years, I’ve been both the most fatigued and stressed but also undoubtedly the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever been (probably in part because of my wonderful partnership with my husband and also in part because I don’t have time to wonder if I’m happy or living a meaningful life and all the other reflective questions with which I used to torture myself). While I’m still sad about this stage coming to an ‘end’ for me and my eldest, I’m hopeful about the future and pretty pumped about what lies ahead.
The back story is that we recently decided to enroll our eldest in pre-k due to the opening of a new free program through a partnership between our local public school system and Vanderbilt University and in large part because of this compelling article from a guest contributor on this very blog. I was hesitant at first and had been very much looking forward to our ‘last year together’ before my son embarked on Kindergarten.
On a personal level, the decision to enroll brought up all kinds of promises I made to myself when I was a public school teacher (prior to marriage and motherhood)…. I will shower the administrative staff with gifts regularly. I will offer to paint or organize or prepare materials so the teacher doesn’t have to stay in the classroom from sun up to sun down. I will be sure to say thank you to every staff member and learn all of their names. I will offer tutoring if the teacher needs support in the classroom. Most importantly, I will try to keep perspective and remember that my child is one of 20 or 30 in his class, one of 240 or 360 in his school.
All this reminiscing led me to the conclusion that this all has come too fast. I’m not ready to be the school mom I dreamed I’d be. We can’t afford to buy coffee cards and flowers for the staff as often as I’d like. I can’t volunteer all my family time away—especially now that I won’t be able to hang out with my little guy as much as we’re used to doing. And that led me down the dark hole of thinking about the time I’ve wasted being frustrated with my kid’s innumerable questions and the times I’ve lost my patience and (though I hate to admit it) basically bullied him into submitting to my will… (Don’t worry, I know that all of this self-doubt is natural and that I’m a great mom and that the time we have spent together is priceless, and I’m ridiculously thankful that my husband supports our lifestyle and my efforts and our choices).
So, with the trust that my son now spends the majority of his waking hours in a safe, supportive, and play-focused environment, here’s what I’ve chosen to focus on:
After two, one kid seems relatively easy. That said, I now get to hang out with my younger son and pick activities based on only our shared needs and interests. He gets to explore our house and toys and things without competition (i.e. without crying or constant negotiation with his brother—which, while it’s a wonderful skill that we’ll continue to develop before and after school and on the weekends—it sure is nice to watch my little one play uninterrupted and fully engaged). As a few logistical bonuses, I only have to buckle and unbuckle one car seat during outings. My babysitting co op tickets have virtually doubled as now I only have to pay for one kid during daytime gigs instead of two. And I don’t have to constantly act as referee and model negotiator at the house, while driving, at the playground or store or library, at meals, etc. etc. etc.
My school-boy gets a new role model. He is finding new words and new ways to look at the world. Fortunately, his teacher seems calm and experienced and respectful of children’s abilities and innate curiosity. In fact, every interaction we had with the staff at Ross leading up to the first day only made me feel more confident in our decision to send our son.
Not only this, but unlike a parent, his teacher gets a playbook to follow (Creative Child curriculum by Teaching Strategies – I looked, it’s pretty awesome), and she doesn’t have to worry about when and what he’s going to eat (in fact, there is a team of people that prepares and delivers food to the classrooms). She gets days ‘off’ for professional development so she can learn the latest research, connect with peers, and reflect on her interactions in class. And on top of all of this, she gets to clock out at the end of the day!
His new role model is getting paid to observe and interact with my son and his classmates WITH an assistant (a second pair of eyes, arms, hands) and celebrate his growth and provide stimulation and encouragement and model respect. That, my friends, is amazing. I think I do a pretty fair job, but imagine if you had team to help you AND a break from your charge(s) from 3:00p to 8:00a every day PLUS weekends AND you got paid. Not to say a teacher’s job is easy (not by any stretch of the imagination), but now that I’ve done both, let me be clear: the stay-at-home-parent gig is no joke.
Our community expands. We’ve had the privilege of being active members of our local MOMS club (a support network for mothers who stay home part or full time during the typical work week). We’ve developed relationships with amazing women and their families. Personally, I’ve found much satisfaction in connecting with other people in our neighborhood experiencing the same life milestones and challenges. However, I’m excited to be a part of the wider public school family. My parents always gave me opportunities to serve the community, and while we’ve been able to do some community-focused projects through MOMS club, I’m looking forward to the many ways our family can serve our classroom, our class’s families, our teachers, and the community as a whole.
Frankly, I thrive on a schedule. Call me old school, but I really appreciate having something to be ready for every morning. I’m an early bird by nature (my husband, the yin to my yang, is a night owl and would probably rather I keep my morning glory songbird self quiet for a few more hours every day. Meanwhile, after managing two children for the past few years, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable walking into a room a few minutes tardy while he steadfastly HATES to be late for anything). I was nervous about starting school because the boys (read: I) have a hard time getting motivated to be ready and out of the house by nine for an informal playdate (NOW I’M SERIOUS: GET YOUR PANTS ON. I’M STARTING THE CAR). However, having the outside pressure of timeliness and the school ‘bell’ has brought a unity to our family’s morning routine. To be frank, it’s been wonderful. We did a few things to adjust to our new routine the week prior to school starting, and that really helped prepare us all for the first day.
After all was said and done, the first week went really well…almost heartbreakingly so. (He really loves school that much? Dress up costumes—an astronaut helmet, no less—let us not ignore the the allusion of an adventurer charting new territory—can so easily distract him from the fact that mom and dad and little bro are leaving him there to fend for himself?) So I have chosen to focus my thoughts on the bright horizon of tomorrow. I know each stage we cross will only get better, and I’m pleased by the change we’ve embraced thus far (though it came a little sooner than I originally expected). Most importantly, I have appreciated every moment of still being a stay at home mom for my littlest—with and without my big guy—since we crossed the ‘first day’ threshold.
What about you? Do you remember that first day of school? For moms of older kids, do you still miss the time before school started, or does it now seem like no big deal? If you are watching a second or third or fourth child start school for the first time, how, if at all, have your emotions changed?