The new school year marks parenting milestones for many of us. Some may be preparing for a quieter house once their teen heads off to college, while others may still be in the thick of it all. There are the transitions to middle school, high school and in our house we have a kindergartener. But what is momentous to me about beginning this particular school year is that my 3-year-old, my youngest, my baby, will start preschool. Even though she’ll only go a total of 6 hours a week, it will be the first time in nearly a decade that I won’t have at least one of my children home with me at all times. What will I do? How will I pass the time, people ask. Should I exercise more? Run errands? Clean the house? Or should I finally join the lunch crowd and reconnect with friends? Once I’ve thought up hours of scenarios to pass those few hours a week, experienced mothers will assure me it’s not so much free time after all.
Natalie is more than ready for preschool. After shadowing her three older siblings for, well, all of her memory, she’s ready to branch out and make friends of her own. “When will I go to school?” she’s been asking for over a year.
So it should be a good and happy thing, and it is. I never felt like my kids were ready for preschool before the age of 3, but something happens to them right about that time- their imaginations spark, for one thing. Natalie now alters her voice when she plays with her babies, speaking in a high pitch. She frequently thrusts a “Little Mermaid” phone at me, urging me to have a telephone conversation with her, as Ariel, only inches away.
“What’s this?” she asks, holding a drawing she’s made, wanting me to guess what is. Before I can answer, she looks at me with an authoritative eye and an always encouraging, “Fink, Mom, fink.” (Think)
Band-aids can still cure any 3-year-old ailment and picking a simple flower is one of her greatest joys (she just doesn’t understand yet why she can pick ours and not our neighbors’).
This marker of her going to preschool is bittersweet to be sure, probably not much different than how the parent feels who will see her son off to the dorms this month, or the father who imagines the walk down the aisle with his daughter this fall. They are markers of the passage of time and the goodbye to a unique stage along the way.
For my 3-year-old, right up to now I know everything she’s ever been exposed to. All of the foods she’s tried, all of the people she’s met, all of the television programs she’s ever seen.
Yet once she starts preschool she’ll learn to color in the lines before I’ve realized it and she’ll surprise me when she asks where our smoke detectors are. She’ll make her first real friends on her own this year, too- without my being right there with the other mothers.
During college I lectured my Dad about all sorts of things as my mind was expanding. I told him how I viewed the world and we got into heated debates about political correctness. He looked at me like I was crazy, and now we laugh together about that phase of mine.
My little daughter will want to stop wearing her Cinderella dress to the store soon and she’ll definitely forego the 4th of July sunglasses she likes to wear all year long.
As other parents and grandparents have often given me the advice to stop and savor my children because they grow so fast, I understand now. Who is that chubby baby in the pictures, who I fretted would never walk, and now is about to enter fourth grade and nearly wears the same size shoe I do?
Whatever phase or milestone our children are approaching, wouldn’t it be fun if we could bottle them up just as they are right now?