My youngest starts Reception tomorrow (Kindergarten for my American readers). I should be doing a celebratory dance and popping open a bottle of bubbly. To my parent compadres: let me be clear that by "bubbly" I mean champagne; there will be no more bottles of bubbles opened and spewed and spilled in this house ever again, so help me God.
I've made it! Three kids have learned to eat, walk, use a toilet, quote Princess Bride, and talk in thick Boston accents (R's are hawd to say, ok?) under my tutelage. But now they are someone else's responsibility from 9am until 3pm.
I've been dreaming about this day for years. I've finally got time to get my hair dyed or buy myself some new shoes without racing back for early nursery school pickup like a wild woman, arriving out-of-breath, sweaty, with a crazed expression on my face and hair flying in every direction, my pony-tail elastic no match for the desperation of a Mum who is late for pickup.
So why am I suddenly so sad? This is the kid who I've complained about stalking me and being too clingy; the kid who wants to do everything with me. Every. Thing. This is the break I've been waiting for.
Instead, I feel like we're breaking up and now I'm becoming the clingy one. She is five years old and beyond ready for school. I'm not sure I am.
Tonight as I was snuggling with my youngest in bed (ok maybe I was squeezing her a little too tightly), she whispered to me gently, "Mum, I don't mean to be rude, but will you please let go of me?"
No. No I won't.
Don't you understand, Little Girl? You are my last baby. You are the last person to depend on me for everything from basic nutrition to kissing boo-boos to wiping messy bums - or covertly making your underwear "disappear" after you've tried to wipe said messy bum yourself (yes, if you asked, I'd hide a body for you too).
It is equal parts liberating and terrifying for me to realize that I have to let go of these jobs. You don't need me anymore - not the way you used to.
I now understand the British term for being fired, because I have indeed been "made redundant."
Sure, I'll always be your Mom and I'll always be there for you, even years from now when you are the one wiping my incontinent bum. But things are different now.
Now you are officially "school age" and with that comes greater independence and maturity. Now you'll have an entire community of other adults and children who are there for you too; you have a whole world that doesn't include me. I kind of liked being the center of someone's universe.
I know I'm being melodramatic. It's not like I suddenly have an empty nest; but then again, my nest isn't exactly full anymore either. I suppose an optimist would say my nest is half-full?
Am I less of a Mom if I no longer have a little one following me everywhere? Or am I more of a mom for raising three independent children? I don't really think Mom status changes; it's not a sliding scale or spectrum, but more like a continuum. A continue-mom, if you will. Our kids grow and their needs change, but we remain the steady force behind them, always ready with a hug, a band-aid, or a shovel when needed.
Still, I can't help feeling like I've been demoted and that all this happened way too quickly.
I realize that letting go is a good thing and means I've done my job well. But it's just like that broccoli I "incentivized" (thank you MBA for teaching me that non-word word) you to eat at dinner tonight: even though I know it's healthy, it's still tough to swallow. So I forgive you Little One, for your overly dramatic gags at the dinner table tonight - just don't complain when I start dry-heaving at drop-off tomorrow.
I know that as you gain more independence, I will get back some of my precious independence too. Having you home all summer was great, but the idea of grocery shopping without any kids in tow this week is making me giddy. Seriously, I need a life.
Reluctantly or rejoicefully - it depends on my mood - I will keep letting you go, bit by bit. But I will still continue to be your Mum when you need me, and even when you think you don't.
Go ahead and skip off to Kindergarten tomorrow in your fancy new shoes and your cute back-to-school haircut while I blow you kisses in my tattered Toms and 10-week old roots, trying not to cry despite the broccoli-sized lump in my throat.
But I'll be ok, because I know you still need me, and I know you need this new phase too. And Mama really needs a new pair of shoes....
UPDATE: I wrote the above last night, but today was her first day and neither of us cried! No dry-heaving either. Here she is marching off to school ahead of me. I think I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to keep up with this kid...