My baby girl, Leigh, started preschool this week, and to say I’ve had mixed emotions about it would be an understatement.
Getting ready for her first day on Monday, Feb. 3, she was so excited. We packed her lunch together and picked out the outfit she would wear. Of course, she would not pose for pictures, but that’s OK. (I still don’t understand how parents get their 2-year-olds to stand still, hold a sign, and smile long enough to capture the moment!)
When we got out of the car, she put on her bigger-than-her-body backpack and walked down the hall that seemed way too large to be embracing my little girl. In her classroom, she started to play with the toys and explore things that were new to her.
Then came the goodbye …
As soon as Leigh realized that we would not be staying with her, the tears started flowing. (Her tears — mine would come later.) Now, I know this is normal, and developmentally appropriate, but it took everything in me not to just pick her up and head back home together.
One of the things I am struggling with most is the fact that she is “the baby”! We still refer to her as the baby at home – and probably should stop doing that — and we don’t know if there will be another baby in our family or not. When my older child, Jack, started school, Leigh was already born. I knew that I would be having many these experiences again. Furthermore, each day I dropped off Jack at school, I had another child to go home to and take care of.
This week, after leaving “the baby” at school, it was just me.
And here is where the mixed emotions really come in. I loved this time I had to myself.
Monday morning, I was able to enjoy breakfast, go to the gym and take care of food shopping without little hands reaching out of the cart. It was great!
But there was also something I missed. It was weird not to have to think about getting Leigh out of the car when I pulled up at Trader Joe’s. It was strange that I could take my time walking past the chocolates, rather than rushing to avoid the inevitable meltdown when I did not let her sample every package they had.
And it was a bit shocking that I had to hold back tears when I saw the checkout person hand stickers to the toddler in the shopping cart in front of me.
In the end, this is parenthood. These are the moments we live for and dread at the same time. Dropping off my “baby” (I promise I will stop calling her “the baby” one day) at school is a sign that she is moving forward in life the way I hope she will. But it also means she needs me less. I now have more freedom (at least four hours a day, three days a week), but I have less moments to share with her.
I can only hope that I continue to have more of these mixed emotions in the years to come. I think it means I am doing something right!
Jmore parenting columnist Talya Knable is a psychotherapist who lives in Lutherville with her husband, Stephen, and their two children, Jack and Leigh. Her website is tkpsych.com/. She is also the assistant clinical director of Shalom Tikvah (shalomtikvah.org/), a local non-profit organization that supports Jewish families facing mental illness and other challenging life circumstances.
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