That feeling of loss when you drop off your last kid at preschool. The sudden shortness of breath, the little empty space in your soul, the guilty feeling of not being with her all day anymore. I didn’t have it.
When I dropped Mae off for her first day of daily organized education I didn’t even flinch. And neither did she. “Bye, Mommy!” she chirped, running off to discover the playground. “Bye, baby” I said, and drove off for a date with my six-year-old before her school started two days later. That day was a slightly weirder experience, but not particularly sad. As I walked out of the elementary school doors, all three kids outside of my realm of responsibility, I felt untethered, a little lost, but certainly free and not a bit melancholy. I had a mission: Zumba class and errands. With much more accomplished in two-and-a-half hours than I could ever manage with a child in-tow.
I was glad to be glad. Glad I wasn’t bummed about this new stage. “This is healthy,” I thought. How I’d hoped I’d feel. No one wants to be sad. But then I wondered if I should be sad. Never miss a chance to over analyze a situation, that’s my (terrible) motto. Should I feel worse? Maybe guilty, drained of purpose, mourning the loss of the precious tiny-tots stage of my life? Because I didn’t. That stage is precious, but it ain’t no secret that it’s also physically and mentally draining.
Believe me, I loved becoming a mother. Felt greater purpose in that than anything I’d done before. Loved my kids more than anything I’d ever known. And yet. When your job is to care for helpless little people -to stay with them even when you want to be alone, to bring them into the store so that it takes four times as long and everyone is grumpy when you leave, instead of going alone – it can make you feel trapped. A prisoner of Raffi music and poopy diapers and making perpetual snacks. It makes sense to not enjoy every bit of that.
Everyone says as mothers we should savor this time with our little ones, because someday they will be gone and we’ll look back with fondness. It goes by so fast. Which is true. After it’s over. “The days are long and the years are short.” I know eventually I will remember these years with misty eyes, but when you’re doing the day-to-day cleaning up and potty training and wrangling your ape-like children at the library it does not go fast. It goes like a line at the DMV in L.A. But with small people climbing on you. It’s hard to savor that.
So, after my moment of over-analyzation about smiling while leaving my very last child at preschool, I let it go. I don’t have to miss that stage. I can miss parts of it, can and will look back on it with fondness in some ways, but I can also enjoy the bit of freedom. After ten years of all-day-every-day, I can be glad for my two and a half hours to be alone, or be with grown-ups, or run errands quickly, write, do laundry and not multi-task, take a painting class (yes!), exercise without worrying about the germs-du-jour in the childcare room at the gym, make phone calls, shop for rain boots online, even take a nap if I feel awful. Yay.
Then it hit. One morning I went to a meeting – one which I’ve gone to for years, with my kids who would go to the childcare area with all the other kids so the moms could be just women for a while. But this time I arrived without my toddler-in-tow, and it hit. I no longer needed the childcare option. I just showed up alone. Oof. I don’t know why that’s when the feelings decided to come, but they did and I felt at once sad and glad. Sad because my kids are growing up, and glad because at least I felt it. It wasn’t awful, just enough for discomfort, but it was there. I did love my children after all. Good deal.
And now I’m back to enjoying a morning of freedom, knowing I’ll see my sweet three-year-old later. I have a feeling the kindergarten drop-off will be much worse, but I’ll leave that for then. For now, I’m happy with my mix – a little alone, a little together. It’s just about right.