I Just Sent My Youngest to Kindergarten and No Part of Me is Sad.
The night before the big day, we packed her lunch and laid out her clothes. We read through the school supply checklist one last time and put everything in her Rapunzel backpack. We read stories about the first day of school and sprinkled “Ready Confetti” under her pillow.
Then I snuggled in beside her and told her how much I loved her and how excited I was for us both to start a new chapter of life. I stayed for a long time after she was asleep, my tears falling on her pillow as the emotions flooded my body.
In the morning we took pictures in front of the school and walked her older sister to third grade. Then we made our way to the Kindergarten classroom, hung her backpack in her cubby and found her name tag at her table. We said our good-byes and she kept waving until I was out of sight.
I went out the front doors and practically skipped across the parking lot to my minivan. I opened the windows, cranked the radio and started heading home all by myself.
About two miles down the road, the tears finally came — not a dab-your-watery-eyes kind of cry, but a mascara-running-down-your-face kind of cry.
Of course I cried. It was the first day of Kindergarten. I know how moms are supposed to feel on the first day of Kindergarten. I’ve read enough first-day- of-school blog posts, status updates and hashtags over the years — things like, “I’m not ready” and “It’s gonna be a rough one” and “#passthekleenex.” I know I’m supposed to be sad.
But that’s not why I was crying. There were zero tears of sadness.
No, these were tears of relief. Tears of joy. Tears of victory. Because they made it. My kids are happy and they’re healthy and they made it.
And I made it.
Staying home full-time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it’s over.
It’s hard for me to say that out loud. It makes me feel guilty and inadequate, but it’s the truth. It’s even harder when all I see around me are moms who seem to be taking it all in stride — moms with more kids, more commitments, busier schedules.
Meanwhile, I barely kept my head above water just getting us all to survive from breakfast to bedtime.
This is probably the part where you’re wondering why I didn’t just go back to work. Had I not heard of the importance of me-time? And where was my husband through all of this?
People say you can be a mom to little ones and still find ways to keep being yourself. I never could figure that one out. I know plenty of moms who fit motherhood right in among the other pieces of their identity.
But for women like me, the early years of motherhood are so overwhelming that there isn’t room for our identity to have other pieces.
It doesn’t matter if we schedule more me-time, hire a part-time sitter or have the most helpful husbands in the world. Nothing makes it easier.
So we buckle down and we wait. We love our kids the best we can with what we have and we take comfort in knowing that this day will come.
That doesn’t mean I regret staying home. My husband and I decided this was the best thing for our family and I still agree that it was. I never could have handled working full-time or even part-time (I tried twice) with babies in my life. The added stress only made me more miserable. I’m so thankful that I had the choice, and I feel deeply for those who don’t.
That also doesn’t mean I don’t love my kids. I love my kids very much. If I didn’t it would have been impossible for me to keep showing up for them every day for eight years, despite my feelings about the act of mothering.
For a long time I thought something was wrong with me. All moms love being moms, don’t they? No one ever says otherwise — not without serious judgment and ridicule, anyway. For that reason, I hid my taboo feelings for years. After all, I didn’t understand it myself. How could I expect anyone else to get it?
Two years ago, my life changed overnight when I learned what it means to be a highly sensitive person. Shortly after that, I also learned that my Myers-Briggs is INTJ, the rarest type for women. (I had taken the Myers-Briggs before I became this self-aware and got a very different profile).
Those revelations completely changed my ability to accept that motherhood is not my favorite part of my life.
I know now that this is just how I’m wired and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. This wiring makes it hard for me to be around people — even my children — for extended periods of time with no break. I’m more task-oriented than people-oriented; I’m a logical and rational thinker and planner; and my senses are easily overwhelmed. None of these things are conducive to the loud, messy, irrational nature of children.
I know all of this now.
I didn’t know all of this eight years ago. Sometimes I wish I did know it, but deep down I’m glad I didn’t. If I knew how hard this would be, I might not have done it. Knowing what I know now, that’s a decision I would probably come to regret (though I can never know for sure).
Believe it or not, my children know all of this. In age appropriate ways, I have been open and honest with them about the things that make motherhood difficult for me. The last thing I ever wanted was for my children to think that any lack of patience or persistent distraction was their fault.
They know how excited I am for all of us to start a new phase of life. They know I’m excited for them to discover their strengths and grow into their own identities. They know what writing means to me and they are happy for me to get back to the thing I put aside for so long in the interest of giving them the best version of myself that I knew how to give.
On the first day of school I spent the whole time writing without any interruptions, something I have been longing to do for eight years. Halfway through the day, I took a break to listen to my favorite podcast and pick up around the house. When I dropped some toys off in my daughter’s room, I couldn’t help stopping next to her bed. Lifting her pillow, I scooped up the little pieces of Ready Confetti, and cupped them in my hand.
Then, in a guilt-free moment of triumph and relief, I tossed those tiny magical shreds straight up in the air and had myself a little celebration for the return of daily silence, the joy of self-acceptance, and the promise of new beginnings.