Ok folks, get more tissues ready (reposted from the NYTimes blog Motherlode):
August 25, 2009, 5:34 pm
A Letter to a Child Starting KindergartenBy Lisa Belkin
Thanks for all your kind words yesterday in response to my post about sending my son off to college. And for those who were wondering — yes he surprised me by leaving a comment of his own; and yes, it made me cry.
For the many of you who are closer to the start of the school journey, I promised something you can clip about sending a child off to kindergarten. What follows is a letter that Kelly Roberson, a freelance writer and editor in Des Moines, wrote to her son Theo a few weeks ago, just before school began. She shared it with me and permitted me to share it with all of you.
In just six short days, you start kindergarten. It feels like your dad and I have been counting down to this moment since you were born: “Can you believe in three years he’ll go to school?” “Next year at this time he’ll be in school.” “Only two more months until school.” But now, in time that’s felt less like a marathon and more like a 50-yard sprint, we’re buying markers and pencils, a Transformers thermos and colored folders.
As with every other step along this parenting journey, friends, family, even strangers have offered opinions on how I’ll feel next week. I haven’t a clue but I do know that when the door closes and I get that last glimpse of you for seven hours, you’ll crowd my thoughts: what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, if you’re ok, if you’re eating your lunch and using your manners, if you miss me and your sister and your dad.
Being a parent has been interesting, frightening, rewarding, and frustrating, sometimes all at once. Your dad and I waited a while to start a family, so you were a baby welcomed and wondered over. On the day you were born, you had a mullet of thick auburn hair and you were a boy, two facts that astonished us. We didn’t care and had no evidence to the contrary, but somehow believed for 40 weeks that I was carrying a girl (luckily we hedged our bets with green and yellow clothes). The mullet fell out but your red hair came back — thick, luscious, a color so completely unlike your dad’s now-gray hair and my dark brown cut. It draws comments from strangers and envy from friends. You’re never sure what to do with the admiration, except to crinkle your eyes in a smile and draw your four-foot frame shyly behind me in acknowledgment.
You charmed me enough on your birth day that I soon jumped into the topsy-turvy world of freelancing, to afford me the flexibility to spend most of each day with you in these early years. Your dad and I placed a bet on the supposed advantage for you (and your sister) that part-time work would yield for you.
Has the advantage worked? We have no way of knowing. But like so many parents of our generation, we tried to give you those “must-haves” the experts insisted on: Breastfeeding: Check. Lots of books: Check. Minimal TV: Check. Early preschool: Check. [Mostly] Healthy meals: Check. Your whole life, you’ve had options and choices, a fortunate distinction from most of the rest of the world.
While I have given you advantages and can buy those school supplies and pack your lunch, you’ll have to go it alone. That’s why as the days draw nearer to the start of school, you test the waters, asking questions, imitating imagined conversations, thinking aloud what this strange new world will be like. You’ve always been just a step to the side of shy, cautious, watching and learning before jumping in. It’s a trait you and I share; while it comes with some limitations, it also has its advantages. I tell people that your younger sister — the one who always sports a bruise or a cut — will be cliff diving, while you’ll be checking the ropes for her.
Once I expressed my own hesitations about school to a teacher acquaintance. Her advice stuck with me: The hardest part of releasing you to elementary school — or any new experience — is realizing that I must give you up to the less-than-perfect world that awaits you.
While the world has been and always will be imperfect, I too have been an imperfect parent. But I was always willing to learn, to say I was sorry, to try harder the next time. And now I’m willing to release you, with the knowledge that school, like parenting, will be rewarding and frustrating and I cannot change that. Despite all those fortunes of your early life, you will have sad days and lonely days and days when you just don’t want to go, when your teacher doesn’t notice you or your best friend won’t play with you or another kid is mean to you.
If there are a few thoughts that carry you through, let them be this: While your dad and I have to let you go, no matter what you think or do or become we will always be there for you and listen. Dive off that cliff occasionally (check the rope first). And know that in our imperfect world, with all my imperfect ways, I have been given you and your sister, the two most perfect gifts one could hope for.