I never paid much attention to the horror stories my friends told me about their kids starting pre-school. Somehow I thought their tales of separation anxiety were a bit exaggerated. I mean, what’s the big deal? You drop your kid off, give them a kiss and pick them up 4 hours later. As long as you come back there shouldn’t be an issue of abandonment, right?
Wrong. With kids, nothing is as easy as it sounds. We visited the pre-school three times to lessen the blow of the first day. One of those visits happened to be the same day as Emily’s birthday so Scout walked right into chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles, fresh strawberries and juice boxes. “I like pre-school, Mommy!” Scout said walking back to the car with frosting smeared all over her shirt. “Today was a special day because it was Emily’s birthday,” I said, “They don’t serve cupcakes everyday at pre-school, honey.” She grinned at me like she was possessed and said, “I really like pre-school, Mommy!” Okay, she’s on some sugar high and not hearing a word I say. Thank God the next time we visited the snack was raisins and string cheese. Scout picked out her own backpack and lunch box and the first day of pre-school was built up with the same excitement and anticipation as Christmas morning. There were photos too. She put on her backpack (which was half her size), held her lunch box with both hands, stood on the front porch and smiled the same way I did for my mother every first day of school.
As we walked up the ramp to her classroom, I felt her grip tighten around my hand and her feet got heavy and slow. “Don’t worry angel, Mama’s going to stay for a bit,” I said guiding her in the front door. My husband, Josh, was out of there in 7 minutes but I stayed for a bit…an hour…okay, and hour and a half. How could I leave? Every time Scout saw a kid fall apart after being dropped off, she would give me that look and say, “Mama don’t leave.” I watched the teacher, Miss Martha, comfort the kids with hugs and change the subject. “Come over here, and I’ll read you a story,” she said in her motherly, Brooklyn accent. Within three minutes, the crying stopped. At least half the kids had some adverse reaction to being dropped off. Scout took note of each one and kept looking in my direction. One little girl even threw-up right into her father’s hand. He rushed by me to the bathroom carrying vomit in one hand and his screaming daughter in the other. I must have looked shocked, because Miss Martha acted like it was no big deal. “Oh, that happens all the time with Amanda,” she said smiling. “She’ll be fine in a minute.” Scout saw the whole thing and wanted to sit in my lap. My cell phone rang. It was Josh. “You’re still there?” he said surprised. “Yeah, I was just getting ready to leave,” I said, “…but Scout won’t let me out of her sight.” He started in, “Honey, the whole point of her going….” “I know, I’m leaving as soon as they go out to the yard,” I said cutting him off. I turned off my phone and thought…it’s so easy for him. Miss Martha called the kids over to a red line on the carpet. They all held onto a rope and sang a song as they marched out to the play yard. This was my chance to break away because Scout’s never met a slide she didn’t like.
She won’t care that I leave now, right? Wrong. “Mommy, watch me!” she squealed from the top of the slide. “Wheee!” she sang all the way down and climbed up again. I watched another mom peel her screaming son off her leg and make a break for it. I cannot be the last mom here. I’m stronger than this. Scout’s ready to slide down again. “Mommy, watch!” she said smiling. “Okay honey, one last time and then I have to go,” I said looking for Miss Martha. Her smile vanished and instead of “Wheee,” she cried, “Nooo!” down the slide and grabbed my hand. “Don’t go Mommy, don’t go!” she cried. Miss Martha was right there and turned to me and said, “Whatever happens, you have to keep going. Remember, the quicker the goodbye the better.” I kissed and hugged Scout and told her I’d be back in a couple hours. Giant tears were running down her cheeks as Miss Martha picked her up. “Mommy, don’t go!” she screamed with her arms stretched out. I went out the gate and gave her one last look, a quick wave and said, “I love you angel.” I turned and walked down the foyer feeling sick to my stomach.
I saw the mom before me hiding behind a pillar with a Kleenex to her nose. “Did Ben stop crying?” she asked trying to compose herself. “Uh…yeah, he stopped right after you left,” I said. “Oh thank God,” she said squeezing my forearm. “I swear this is killing me!” she said breaking down again. “I know, it’s hard on all of us,” I said wanting to comfort her. “There are still two moms out there, so you’re doing great. Give yourself some credit.” She blew her nose and said, “I will. Thanks.” I started walking to my car. My steps got heavy and slow. Every cell in my body told me to turn around and go back and check on my daughter but I kept going. I looked back, and in my mind I could see a fresh trail of blood dripping behind me. It felt like a vital organ had been ripped from my body and left behind on that playground. I was suddenly reminded of a card from Scout’s baby shower. It moved me in such a way that I’ve kept it on her bulletin board all this time. The card read, “Motherhood is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” By the time I reached my car my eyes were ripe with tears. I got in and they erupted. All my friends were right. They didn’t exaggerate one bit. This is a big deal.