It’s true what they say. All of it. “Time goes by so fast. They grow up so quickly. The stages are all difficult in their own way”. None of that “advice” helped me as I struggled to pull myself into motherhood. And even since, at almost 5 years as a mother – I needed to learn these lessons on my own. I needed to be in the stage, struggle, and move through it – for me, these were not magical phrases that somehow made it all easier. I held my breath and nodded politely through gritted teeth when they were passed down to me.
And now here I am. With an almost 5 year-old, a preschool graduate. Repeating all of the above “advice” out loud, but only to my people, the ones who would never say I told you so. My sweet baby has been going to the same “school” since he was 5 months old. How cool is that? His daycare years turned right into his preschool days and he did life surrounded by teachers that changed his diaper when he was a baby and helped him to potty train as a toddler.
He made it. We made it. Through the first illnesses when we had to rush to pick him up, to the first stitches as an early walker, right on to the “oh my god is my child an a**hole” overreaction when we found out he hit a classmate. There have been countless days in this 5 years when I have asked him if he grew up at school today – singing the ABCs, counting in Spanish, writing his name, and showing off his newly learned yoga poses. Recently his response to that question has been “Yes, mom, that’s what big kids do” or “Yes, mom, because I’m going to kindergarten next year.”
(I’m not crying, you’re crying)
I’m tempted to stay stuck in the past – wishing I was home just a liiiiiitle bit more, wanting to make sure he knows I’m sorry that I yelled, or wondering why I never pulled my shit together to keep a daily journal for him. That's not helpful – for him or for my anxiety. He reminds me that we can always try again.
In almost one month I will be in Uganda – a dream trip that I have had in my heart for years. It will be the longest I have ever been away from him and I’m terrified. My mind wants to spend the days creating worst case scenarios and making up intricate stories about how he will forget about me and not love me quite as much when I return. Logically, I understand how ridiculous this sounds and I have been on high alert about it all to avoid passing down my anxiety to him. As if somehow my invisible thoughts will escape my brain and drift into his little body.
Sometimes when I give him an extra treat or we stay up a little late he will say, “mommy, do I get this because you love me so much?” The question pierces my heart – “no baby, I always love you so much, no matter what.” We are working on reminding him that he is always an amazing little boy, not “good” or “bad” – and that sometimes he just makes bad choices. I want him to know unconditional love – deep in his bones. I want him to feel it.
So, while traveling across the globe without him will be painful and scary – I think it will be good for both of us – we are starting new chapters. I will honor his wild curiosity, respect his independence, and watch him grow his own way. And I hope he sees a mother who has a heart and passion to teach and serve others, chase her dreams, and continue to choose courage over comfort. Besides, “Courage is a heart word. Be brave. Love hard.” – Brené Brown. I don’t think he is the only one graduating, moving on to new lessons in a new school – I think mothers graduate too. While our diplomas aren’t physical, they surely leave marks on our hearts. Like the little pink heart emoji with yellow stars on it – we learn through each stage and celebrate it as we watch our little ones grow.