Today was preschool registration day. I took my four year old with me. We held hands as we walked through the school doors. I could feel his excitement through his fingertips. He was even talking about how we loved the grass, and how his school is orange, and how he wanted to talk to his teachers about building a train. Me? I was nervous. I’m a 25 year old momma with three boys four and under. I’ve never really been around kids until I had my own and found my mom tribe (you know, the moms that you can slouch around with without guilt or rejection while your kids beg for snacks). Preschool–and the school system in general–eludes me, and even frightens me. I’ve been the primary caregiver for my son for his entire life. He survived solely from milk my body made for 6 months. I’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into growing and raising him. So walking into these doors gave me the feels. All of them.
My tendency towards anxiety–eh, scratch that, I have a legit anxiety disorder–opens up these floodgates of “worst case scenerios.” I imagine my sweet, effervescent, feisty four year old encountering his first bully. I imagine him feeling rejected, or sad. I imagine school threats. My therapist calls this “awfulizing” and it’s a real buzzkill. As I filled out this packet of paperwork and observed the teachers with their classes of little kiddos in the cafeteria, these “awfulized” anxious thoughts started to soften. Because I didn’t see any of that.
I saw teachers who looked my age or older, completely present with these kids. I saw hallway walls peppered with art projects, and classrooms devoted to play. I read a little pamphlet about school bullying and how to help kids adjust to school. Suddenly, my fears about letting my baby–my first baby–walk into these halls seemed less big. I saw how happy he was simply watching these kids eat as we filled out our paperwork. I watched him observe them and even repeat bits of conversations he heard them having. I laughed as he hid underneath the table with my olive green kimono over his head (he told me he was pretending to be Harry Potter underneath his cloak) and I got excited for him. I even felt myself soften and let go of my anxieties as I saw how ready he is to jump in to the world of socializing and structure and learning through play.
This world is uncertain, and absolutely terrifying. Especially from our adult point of view. We see the tragedies that unfold around us, and weep with mothers and fathers who have endured them. We read stories that haunt us about children that slipped through the cracks or went down bad paths, and we ask ourselves: “how can I protect my children from this?”
We can’t. Or at least, I can’t. But we can watch how our child reacts and adjusts to life, and learn how to support them along the way. We can see their strengths and teach them how to lift themselves up, even if they are faced with difficult feelings. We can see their weaknesses and help them grow through them and manage them so they don’t turn big. We can be there as they walk into their classrooms, even if they don’t look back. And we can always, always love them through anything.
So I turned my anxiety about the whole process of preschool and my baby “growing up” into excitement for how much he will learn and change throughout it. I imagined him making crafts that he felt excited to share with me. I imagined him picking out a halloween costume for class parties (do they still do that, btw?) and telling me about his new friends. I even imagine him standing up to bullying with confidence and candor. I saw how his personality will shine there. I even thought about how he will be making memories that will shape him into the person he’s meant to be, years from now. I felt, looking at my little four year old, like I had brought him to the right place, even though he’s my baby and I’m going to miss him being my baby, always.