I am gleeful, almost giddy. My third child is starting preschool and I am faced with the prospect of six glorious hours a week of child-free time. So far the first day of preschool for one of my boys has always been experienced while uncomfortably end-of-term pregnant with the next one, but not this time. This time I will be footloose and fancy free. I will shop! I will brunch with friends! I will write! I will...well I don't know what else I will do but it's going to be glorious and whatever I want! I try not to smile too broadly at the women working the table set up near the enterance of the school with coffee and muffins and tissues, ready to offer support and encouragement to other moms. "That's sweet" I think, "but not for me!" If it didn't seem slightly inappropriate among the tearful first timers on that beautiful Tuesday August morning I would have danced a little jig right there next to the hamster cage and the building blocks.
My youngest son, Matthew, is almost (almost!) as excited as I am. He has been waiting his turn to go to school "like my big bruddahs!" for awhile now. People ask me every once in awhile how I manage with three boys. The secret truth is that it is pretty easy. I just point the smallest child at one of his big brothers and say, "There! Do it like that!" It has worked with most things so far, from kicking a soccer ball to potty training (OH! How much easier it is to potty train a boy when there is a big brother around with the right equipment to demonstrate!) and it is working for school as well. On that first day we walk into the room and BAM! he is already playing with the play doh the teacher has left out on the table to entice the little ones away from their parents, talking up a storm to the kid next to him who looks a little shell-shocked and slightly more uncertain about this whole school thing.
(Flashback! 2004: My oldest son's first day of preschool. What a completely different experience that day was. He was not at all sold on the idea of being left at school although I was sure that he would love it once he gave it a chance. Of course, I was a LITTLE worried...what mom of her first child isn't as they head off to school for the very first time? As far as I can remember, my inner monologue went something like this: "I've pretty much gone on every adventure with him so far...am I sure he is ready to take on this one by himself? He can hardly pull up his own pants. Look at that nice, grandmotherly teacher helping them find thier cubby. She seemed so sweet at orientation, although I guess technically it is true that I don't really KNOW her...what was her last name again? And look at these other kids....that one over by the blocks looks pretty big. I'll bet he could knock my precious little sunflower over without even a backward glance. What was I thinking? Hey! OUCH! What is this baby doing, kicking DOWN?? That is not cool. Man, look at my feet. They are really swollen. Good thing it is flip-flop season or I wouldn't be able to wear shoes. I should probably go sit down. OK then kiddo, fun and finger painting for you, naps and nesting for me. Let's do this thing!")
Back to the present. The teacher smiles, gently says it is time for parents to say goodbye, that our little ones will have so many stories to share with us when we return in just a few hours time. I smile back, trying not to look guilty. I feel very much like I am getting away with something, like someone is going to tap on the window of my car just as I'm about to pull away and say, "Nice try!" It just can't be this easy! After almost 10 years of being accompanied daily by a child everywhere - to the store, to the doctor, to the bathroom - sweet, sweet freedom is just a few minutes away. And, AND they are going to let me do this again next week! There must be a catch.
I walk over and give Matthew a big kiss on the cheek, "Bye Matt! I love you! See you later!" I tell him. He looks up from his play doh and smiles at me, so big in his brand new shirt and light-up shoes for school, so little with his chubby cheeks and mile long eyelashes. "Bye Mama!" he says, throwing his arms around my neck. He smells like baby shampoo. "I love you too! See you later! Bye Mama! Bye!"
It was the "Mama" that got me.
"It's the end of an era!" I think as I walk down the hallway toward the front of the school. My days of constant pint-sized companionship are coming to an end, as are the days of that precious little voice calling me Mama. Before you know it I'll be Mom, and then MOTHER. The nine year old, that first boy I left at preschool all those years ago, is already there.
Maybe I'll stop at the table for coffee and a tissue after all.