My 3-year-old, Bennett, started school Monday. It came suddenly. I returned from my trip to New Orleans and the next day we were walking him into school with his Paw Patrol backpack resting on his little shoulders. It was the same building where we dropped Jacob off for the first time two whole years ago. When we left Jacob the first day, he was fine until the moment of separation and then there were heavy tears. The teacher held him so we could get out of the building. With Bennett, it was more subdued.
He was eager as we left the house and made the short car ride around the corner to the narrow, concrete block building with small playgrounds on each end. He remained eager as we walked in, found his cubby box, and deposited his change of clothes and totally unnecessary lunch box (he wasn’t staying for lunch, but he insisted that I pack it anyway). We met his teacher in the hallway and then we walked back up to the large room at the front filled with long tables. A dozen children were seated along both sides of the first line of tables, preparing to eat cereal. The teacher told Bennett he could sit down at an open spot. He dropped his head and pulled back slightly. I could see the suggestion of tears welling in his blue eyes.
I knelt and hugged him, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. The worst didn’t come. We made a break for the door. I looked back one last time and he was still standing there, his head slightly down, his eyes a little watery, his face a little sad, but showing no signs of hysterics.
I cried after we got home. I cried because, of the three kids, he is the one I have the closest physical connection to. He is still the one who wakes up at least once every night and demands that I rock him back to sleep or climb into bed with him. He is the one who wakes up before dawn and watches cartoons while I nap on the couch beside him. He is the one I’ve spent almost all of every day with for nearly four years. He was so brave.
I drove back up the school after about twenty minutes and parked surreptitiously in the grassy area down by the road. I could see the playground from my parking spot and I didn’t risk being identified. I spotted him in his blue shorts and gray long-sleeved shirt climbing up and sliding down a small yellow slide. Then he jogged away around the corner of the play set, out of view, following a couple of other children. He seemed fine; I was relieved.
When we picked him up at 12:30, he was excited about his day. The teacher said he was very interactive and outgoing. He clearly isn’t all mine.
The next morning, he was up and ready to go back. He got dressed immediately, which is unusual because he often lounges around in pajamas for at least half the day. We were planning to start him out with three mornings a week to ease him in so he would be better prepared for five-morning-per-week VPK starting in the fall. We audibled and signed him up for the five-morning program. We will likely regret this decision in a week, but who are we to hold him back. After all, as he pointed out several times, the playground at the school has not one, but two sandboxes!
His sudden independence didn’t come as a surprise. As you may remember, he’s been dreaming about school for quite a while and cultivating a school obsession. Or maybe attending in an alternate timeline. It’s still unclear. However, expecting something to happen and being ready for it are two totally different things.
After dark, things remained much the same as they've always been. Confident and independent in the daylight, as he charged down the stairs and into the living room in the middle of the night, sniffling with nighttime congestion, clutching his gray blanket, his eyes squinting against the lights in the kitchen, he was still very much my little boy. I gathered him up and held him close. He rested his head against my neck and we walked back down the hall, up the stairs, and into his room. To spend a few more hours together in our trusty chair and his red race car bed.