Almost every day for the last three years, I’ve driven Henry to his preschool. As I’ve written many, many times before, I cherish this alone time with Henry. I love everything about the drive: the quiet time we enjoy, the circuitous curve of the black-topped road, the reaching canopy of trees.
My emotions have been primed for days. First, I celebrated my 40th. Then, we celebrated Henry’s 6th. To top it all off, next Monday, I transport Abby to her first ever sleep-away camp. (Stay tuned for more gut-wrenching posts.) A wet, wadded up tissue is my constant companion. Today marks another tissue-worthy milestone: Henry’s last day of preschool.
I awoke to the morning dawning cool and gray. The heavy, saturated clouds looked like they might cry. The morning unfolded as most do; breakfasts, cups of milk, a Twitter stop, dishes, snippets of conversation and the Today Show. As I made the lunches, it started. I cried as I nestled each food item into his blue zippered lunch box. I cried as I placed said lunch box into his orange, monogramed backpack. I cried when Jenna Bush Hager interviewed her grandfather, George H. W. Bush on the Today Show. I cried when I folded my pajamas to get dressed.
Abby, Henry and I were finally ready to leave. Dread flooded my stomach. I walked into the driveway, toward our trusty minivan and into yet another Last. The tears started again. Before I could even finish backing out of the driveway, I was audibly and visibly crying. I threw the car into park and turned to look at Abby and Henry. They looked at me curiously, wondering who was going to get into trouble as I usually only make abrupt car stops to discipline one of my kids.
Then they saw that I was crying.
Mommy, what’s wrong? asked Abby.
Sniff, sniff, sob. Well, it’s just, well, I am so proud of both of you. And I love you. And, well, you guys are growing up (sob) so fast.
Oh, Mommy, it’s ok. Sympathy spread across Abby’s sweet, freckled face. She took my hand and squeezed hard. Rain started pelting the windshield.
She then passed my hand over to Henry, who took mine into his. And then he said, I’m stawting to get some teawrs in my eyes, too.
I tried to stop crying. But it was useless. I surrendered. I cried to Abby’s school and cried as she exited the car. Tears dripped the entire drive to Elmwood. When we arrived, we got out of the white minivan, accompanied by my deep breaths and splotchy face. And I remembered…
Henry and I have walked up this brick path so many times. To some, it might look like any ordinary brick walk, merely a means-to-an-end, a passage from here to there. But when I look at this path, I see memories. Henry and I have dashed up it. We’ve plodded slowly along it. We’ve not stepped on cracks (not easy to do on brick) so we don’t break our mother’s backs. We’ve trudged through snow and splashed through rain. Some days, I wasn’t allowed to walk up the wobbly brick with Henry; instead, I stood, relegated to the fence, watching him travel the path alone. Some days, H clung to my hand and I wasn’t allowed to walk away down the brick path alone.
As I say goodbye to Elmwood School, I realize that I am the one who leaves with a slow, nagging trepidation. I am the one who gets palpable pangs of nervousness when I utter the words,
Next year, when you’re in Kindergarten….
Each word drops like emotionally-laden bricks. I’ve mused that the mark of pure gratitude is missing something before it is even gone; I already miss Elmwood. I’m already planning the solo trips I might (read: definitely will) make here, just to watch the morning cadence of parents shepherding their little ones into the snug, yellow building. I am the one who waxes nostalgically about the last three, warm years at Elmwood. My eyes are the ones that fill with hot tears when I look at the wonderful family of teachers who, over the last three years, have helped us love, teach and raise my son and his friends. I am the mother who, as I watch the end-of-the-year video, scored to Free To Be You and Me and The Circle Game, will be weeping uncontrollably.
Henry, however, is ready. He’s ready to go to Kindergarten. He looks forward. I look back. We meet somewhere in the middle of this precarious tight rope. This. Is. Perfect.
One recent morning, after dropping off H, I stood outside the his classroom. I stood, hunched, hiding under the window sill so no one could see me. The windows were cracked to let in the beautifully cool, crisp June morning. Through those same cracks escaped the warm, pure notes of small children singing,
Flag of Amewica,
Wed, white and bwue,
Flag of Amewica,
We wuv you.
I slowly lifted my head and spied into the classroom. I saw each small hand resting on each small chest. Each earnest face, tender and somber, exuded patriotism of the purest kind. As tears welled up and predictably started their familiar descent, I gave thanks for my ridiculously large sunglasses and slowly walked back down the brick path, alone.
I opened the white picket fence gate and then latched it. Bits of each child’s morning floated out of each class’s window and into my space. With a full and simultaneously heavy heart, I walked down the circle drive and drove away, keenly aware of the pending finality of my actions.
And so, I say goodbye.
Goodbye, Elmwood School. Goodbye to the white picket fence and the brick path.
Goodbye to the tinkling sounds of children’s laughter dancing on a spring breeze. Goodbye to the piercing cry of a child who thinks that it might be a much better idea to be with Mommy today. Goodbye to the call from our beloved Director reassuring me that the minute I left, my previously clinging child was happy. Playing. Content.
Goodbye to this particular part of our lives.