I started dreaming about kindergarten when my firstborn was about four weeks old. She woke up from her newborn slumber with vengeance, and there were back-to-back days when I never changed out of my pajama pants but just repeatedly swapped my t-shirt after each blowout and spit-up explosion. I still vividly remember the first time I breastfed her while using the toilet—hello, dignity out the window—wondering if I’d ever get some of my independence back. I was still barely learning how to put on my figurative hiking boots, but already visualizing the sweet kindergarten summit when I’d have time to myself again.
I realize these thoughts may come across as very privileged and selfish, especially to women longing for a baby or wishing they could stay home with their children. I hope you won’t judge me for letting my mind wander about the freedoms school might someday offer, even if it was still five years away. When you’re completely exhausted it’s sometimes hard to enjoy the gift in front of you. All I knew at the time was that everyone should be allowed to poop in privacy, and it wasn’t happening for me nearly enough.
Eventually though, we found our groove. Speaking of poop, the baby started to keep hers in the diaper and her projectile spit-up was soon a passing memory. She began napping longer stretches and needing to be held less, which helped me regain some of the independence I thought I’d lost forever. And I was really grateful, and thoroughly relieved to find that showering (and solo visits to the bathroom) became a somewhat regular occurrence once again.
I almost completely stopped thinking about kindergarten.
But then we added a son to our family, and life became really chaotic and mundane again. When the baby was new, getting both children ready to leave the house seemed to take an hour at best so we often elected to stay home where I’d watch the clock and rally myself to read Curious George Visits the Dentist one more time.
My guess is there are a lot of stay-at-home moms in the same boat—and while we love these little people so much, the days often feel a few hours too long. There is plenty of time for coloring and play dough and books and visiting the library and swim lessons and riding bikes but never enough time to empty a dishwasher, mop a floor, return a few e-mails or pursue adult hobbies. Little ones, especially the three and four year old non-napping variety, are awake so many hours of the day. And they have the attention span of fleas. How do we love them, entertain them, and keep them out of mischief, while still tending to our own needs and desires? Many days these goals feel incompatible.
But then, last year, the summit started feeling a little bit closer. Anna began attending preschool in late August, and we dropped her off on the first day with a tiny “pack pack” filled with a nut-free bento box lunch and her water bottle. All of us quickly began enjoying the small but simple change to our weekly routine, but there were also new norms to adjust to such as packing lunches at night and rushing to get out the door two mornings a week. Neither of these things were a big deal really, but they were a foreshadowing of the many years to come.
One a particular Wednesday morning in September, a non-preschool day, I had a moment that radically changed my perspective on the elementary school years to come. I was washing breakfast dishes while the kids were shaking it off in the living room just like they had most mornings that summer. (Thank you T. Swift, for starting our days with this. sick. beat.) I looked up briefly, soaking up the pajama party antics, before catching a bike parade of moms and kids racing past our front window. The elementary school bell would be ringing in less than 20 minutes, and no one could be late.
I’d noticed the bike parade the week before, and found it charming how they were all riding together, happy and excited for the first days of school. But on this particular day all I could think was, again? They’re riding off to school, again? My kids were still bouncing around in their pajamas, no cares in the world, no one looking for their names on an attendance roll call. Today there was no rushing. No bullies. No forgotten homework. No furious packing of lunches. Today there was no bell holding us accountable. We could all be kids today, and I didn’t want it any other way.
Something in my heart broke just a little bit, when the last kid rode past the window. I suddenly understood why many moms get teary eyed at the start of kindergarten. We weren’t there yet, but I was catching a small glimpse at the next stage to come. Oddly enough, it looked as blissfully routine as our current life. With kindergarten will come a little more freedom, but also a lot more structure. Just like every stage we’ve passed so far, there will be blessings and burdens.
I am still really looking forward to kindergarten next year. Our big preschooler is, too. When the day comes, we’ll both be ready. But. But. I am trying to enjoy the routines of our current life stage; to not count the years but soak in the days. And to all the mamas with kids starting school, at whatever stage they might be, let us remind each other that it’s okay to have complicated feelings about sending our babies off into the great big world, whether that’s preschool or college. It’s perfectly normal to be happy and sad at the same time. Our kids are growing up, exactly as they should be. And we are too.