When school started this year, I sent my first-born daughter, Lila, to her first day of kindergarten, a momentous occasion she’s been anticipating for over a year.
On that day, my five-and-a-half-year-old took the school bus for the very first time in her life, climbing up the stairs and never looking back. On that day, I picked her up from the bus stop in the afternoon, where I watched her wave ferociously through the bus window as it approached.
Poised and proud, Lila marched down the stairs and said what every mother wants to hear: “Mommy, I love kindergarten. When can I go back?”
I’m not the first parent to send their child off to kindergarten. In fact, the same day Lila started school, I saw pictures posted on social media and news outlets of the Duchess of Cambridge, Katherine Middleton, Today show co-host Savannah Guthrie and former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager dropping off their children at their first days of school.
In many ways, these women are nothing like us — from the fame and fortune to the constant public scrutiny. But in the most fundamental way, we are all the same — we are all mothers, and our children’s first day of school is a big deal. I feel like I’m in pretty good company.
The most popular questions I got from those who knew Lila was starting kindergarten were, “How are you doing?” and “Did you cry?”
I’m proud to say I didn’t shed one tear, and here’s why.
A few days prior to Lila’s first day, I was with my friend, Jill Mull, who sent her twin sons off to their freshman year of college. Without hesitation, my first question to her was, “How are you doing?” and “Did you cry?” I figure when I send my girls off to college, I’ll be a mess. So I couldn’t imagine how she was keeping herself together after sending not one but two kids to college simultaneously for the first time.
Her answer surprised me. “It’s hard to be sad,” she said, “when you see how happy your kids are. Because they are so happy, I’m happy.”
Don’t get me wrong, when I watched Lila leave on the bus that first day, I had all the cliché feelings and thoughts running through my head — how it felt like she was just born yesterday, how I couldn’t believe I’m the mom to a kindergartner and how time feels like it’s moving too fast.
But I couldn’t help but keep in mind what my friend said about our kids and happiness.
The truth is, Lila is emotionally and educationally ready to start kindergarten. She is eager to learn, enthusiastic about making new friends and equipped to handle age-appropriate challenges that come her way. This is where she is supposed to be. That is not something to cry over, but rather something to celebrate.
As I thought about what to share with you in this post, I was laying with Lila as she fell asleep, nuzzling her head up against my arm because on that particular night, she needed me to stay with her to help her fall asleep. Turns out, even though she is in kindergarten, she still needs her mom. And honestly, at my age, I still need my mom, so I know her need for me will never fade.
I know going to kindergarten will not be the first time I feel a tug at my heartstrings. I can guarantee I will feel the same way when she goes to sleepaway camp for the first time, learns to drive or begins her first job out of college. But this is what being a mother is all about. If we are lucky and doing our jobs right, our children will have a lifetime of “firsts,” and we are giving them the tools needed to thrive, both with us by their side as well as individually.
Milestones happen every day in our children’s lives, and no matter how big or small they are, they are all worth recognizing.
Aliza Friedlander is senior writer for Jmore.
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