Last week my son started first grade. I cried. He was fine. He looked handsome in his uniform, wearing leather dress shoes and a belt, navy slacks and a collared shirt.
“William, you look like a future CEO!” my friend exclaimed.
There is so much discord in my emotions raising my children. During the summer when the children start to fight or complain too much, I want them to go back to school. As laundry piles up, bills are overdue and I’m behind on everything, I look forward to when I get a couple free hours at home without them.
Then the first day of school arrives, and I don’t want them to go. It’s an ongoing conflict. I want them to stay, I want them to go. The children want to stay, they want to go.
I read that a young girl’s fantasy play, all the fairy tales about being a princess and marrying a prince, Sleeping Beauty, where she sleeps for a hundred years before her prince finds her, those stories are all about adolescence.
The desire not to grow up and the conflict that presents for a young girl who will become a woman. A 3-year old knows this, it’s part of her psyche, of her humanity, and she struggles with the knowledge that someday she will leave her home.
My daughter tells me that when she grows up she will live with me and her daddy. And I tell her she will always have a home here, but that some day she might want to have her own house and her own family. She cocks her head to the side, and in her best mimicking-her-older-sister’s voice she says, “Mom!” As if that is the most ridiculous thing she has ever heard.
This summer when we went to my parent’s house, my princess was concerned. If Grandma and Grandpa were my mommy and daddy, why didn’t I live there? When I did live there, where did I sleep? Did I have a dog? Grandma will always be your mommy, right? The questions were troubling her, and although they were easy for me to answer, the answers were difficult for her to understand.
One evening we went to the park after dinner. It was sunny and it was still 93 degrees. I was exhausted; my kids at this point in the day are running on pure joy, the love of summer, loving life, being a kid.
Emma asks me to play with her, to be a princess, and she is going to take me to the house where we are going to live and we will ride the train to school. “Come on, Mommy, come on.”
She has taken my hand and is dragging me toward the house where we can play. I don’t want to play. All I want to do is sit on the back patio alone with a book of poetry and a daiquiri, a real one. I’m tired and I’m hot and I don’t want to be at the park being the mommy princess.
Then I think about a Robert Service poem I read about your children leaving and how you are left to fondle baby clothes. And brush away a tear. I wonder if years from now I’ll remember this summer, the heat and the park and the princess, and I’ll cry and miss my 3-year-old Emma.
I’m struggling, but I’m okay with my princess going off to her first day of preschool, her first ballet lesson in her tutu. But I’m not okay with my son going to first grade.
Maybe it’s because I know that even after my princess has found her prince and has her own life and her own family, she will come back to me, back to grandma’s house and the summer and the park and the heat. But I’m not sure a CEO is going to have the time.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.