the beginning of a metamorphosis (a letter to my dear child on his first day at school)

Oh my brave, brave child,
“It was a dark, blustery” morning the day you started school. (How fitting that the words that best describe the Universe the morning we dropped you off at school for the first time are the words with which your favourite story begins.)*

It had been raining all night. The wet and psychedelically green earth was testimony to that. It was drizzling that morning as we went to the car. You were so so brave.
For the first time that morning, you followed me into the kitchen, refusing to let Dada help you change your T-shirt. For the first time in all the months that we’ve been talking about school, you came to me with words that had likely been playing for a long time in your heart and mind and in that space behind your lips, waiting to be coaxed out.
And I knelt in front of you and said to you, “You are anxious.”
And in response to this tiniest sliver of encouragement, you said, “Mumma, Dada, come inside school.”
Oh my brave, brave child. I had been so wrapped up in my own anxieties that I had failed to notice how carefully you had been trying to keep yourself together these past few days. I hadn’t noticed until the previous night how your frequent bowel movements these past couple of weeks were likely the effect of your own anxieties of how school would be without Mumma and Dada in there with you.
And I said to you what I always did, “I love you so much, my baby. We love you so much. School is a special place for teachers and babies. So Mumma and Dada can’t come inside school with you. But after you use the toilet, and play some games, and have a snack, we will come to pick you up.”
You understood.
You proceeded to get ready without any fuss.
We reached on time. We saw a green double-decker train (green dubba-kabbas train) and a blue bus en route.
“Reached school,” you said, when we were sitting in the car in front of your school, waiting for Miss LaRoche to come and pick you up. Tears welled up in my eyes and choked my throat for a few brief moments. Luckily, you were looking out the window and did not see me start to crumble. I resolved to hold back my tears for until after you had walked into your school.
There were two cars ahead of us. We pulled up. The child in the car just in front of us had to be dragged out of his car seat and carried into the school by Miss LaRoche. I caught a glimpse of his distraught face, his mouth stretched wide into a cry, his body arched away from Miss Laroche and towards the car that held the people most precious to him in this world.
It was your turn next. As Miss LaRoche approached the car, I unbuckled your seat belt. You clambered out and came into my lap, a move that took me by surprise. “Mumma, come Mumma,” you said, my brave, brave child. Dada released the child lock on your side as Miss LaRoche attempted to open the door. There, she has pulled the door open.
“Good morning, Miss LaRoche,” I smiled bright and clear. “Good morning,” she smiled. “You might want to put on your hood,” she said to you. I pulled the hood of your jacket over your head.
“We’ll come to pick you up after your snack,” I reminded you. You went towards her.
“You know how to climb down,” I reminded you. She helped you down.
“Have fun, blue train,” I waved to you. You held her hand, she closed the door, and you walked bravely into the school building.
I burst into tears before you had even reached the door. Of course, you didn’t see that, you wouldn’t have known that.
You looked back briefly but continued walking towards school. There was no car behind us, so we had the luxury of waiting until you disappeared from sight. The door opened, you were ensconced safely inside, and we pulled away.

I was bawling. I cried for how brave you were, how collected you were, how aware of your emotions and feelings you were, how you knew you were anxious about school, yet how you didn’t let your fear stop you from experiencing something new, something that would seem strange and intimidating at first but something I believe that you will come to love and enjoy and look forward to in due course of time.

Dada and I drove around for a bit, grabbed a coffee, figured out the route to the Oakville GO station for him to take the train to work every morning after drop-off. I talked incessantly, filling up the D-shaped hole with the sound of my voice. “Brown garbage truck! Green dubba-kabbas train,” I pointed out to him.

A few minutes into this new, you-less existence, I started to notice things that would have otherwise escaped my notice with all my attention typically being on you. How upscale even the Starbucks in Oakville is. How posh its clientele. How pretty downtown Oakville is.

The ease with which my you-less mind was taken up with you-less things was enlightening. Was it this easy to leave a child in a stranger’s care and go about life as if an earthquake did not rip through my world only a few minutes ago? Out of sight, out of mind? In a handful of minutes?

It reminded me of the time I moved out of home into my college dorm. I had come down with the flu and for the first time I was both unwell and away from home. I was terribly homesick. I called up Mum and informed her I was unwell. Her response was one of nonchalant concern. “Are you not bothered?” I shouted at her. “Well, you are so far away. What could I possibly do worrying about you from here?” came her irrefutably sensible reply.

It is astounding how my time with you seems to help me make sense of my own experiences from childhood and youth … the future unfolding to explain the mysteries of the past … history repeating itself … time having completed one loop, now going for the next …

And then that terrifying thought sneaked into my mind. Would it have been this easy had I opted to leave you in daycare a year or more ago? And just as quickly appeared another thought in response. As impossible as it is for me to answer this question now, I now know for certain what that choice would have cost me. An entire year of spending every breathing moment watching my little child grow and forcing me to grow up too … Nothing is worth that much.

Less than half an hour of being away from you, I was itching to call up the school’s administrative director and ask her to check in on you. (It was an offer she made the day I was writing out the cheques in her office, my eyes brimming with tears.) The call went to voicemail. I didn’t leave a message. I tried calling a quarter of an hour later. No response.

A while later came an email notifying us of a power outage at school and a request that the children be picked up from school. I waited at the gate as we were instructed to. Through the glass-paned door, I could see Mrs. Kim helping you wear your jacket and putting your bag on your back. The door opened. I saw another child beside you. Someone was howling. I hoped it wasn’t you. It surely was you. Surely I hadn’t forgotten the sound of your voice in that little time you were away from me? I had never heard you bawl like that before.

My brave, brave child. My brave, brave child with tear salts crusted around your moist eyes, dried snot smeared on your cheeks from when you’d have rubbed your nose with the back of your hand but wouldn’t have had me around to wipe your nose and cheeks promptly thereafter. I bundled you in my arms. “Bye bye, Miss LaRoche, see you again tomorrow,” you gulped. You were silent for a while on the drive back. “Baby crying Mumma come Mumma, Dada come Dada, Mumma not coming, Dada not coming, Mumma Dada not there inside school, Mumma Dada went away,” you divulged when you were ready to, quickly followed by exclamations of “White car”, “Blue jeep”, “Black pickup truck”. Followed by plenty of Timbits, and a visit to the Indigo bookstore to play with the train tracks and buy an owl (named Yago, birthday on the 27th of June, exactly a week after D’s).

Oh my brave, brave child, who still looks forward to going to school tomorrow, now knowing well what it would be like to not have Mumma Dada around for a couple of hours.
My darling, who spent the rest of the day a little too happy, a little too excited in the bath, a little too delighted in everything once familiar and now rediscovered … as if to compensate for the shock of the morning, as if to muster courage for another morning at school …
My brave, brave child, you who acknowledge your fear but won’t let it stop you from going after the things you want …
My little child of this Universe … I have not a fraction of the emotional maturity you display at your age … I only hope I can respond to you each day with grace, without letting my anxieties get the better of me …

My brave, brave child …
I love you so much …
Years ago, I would have scoffed at the grammatical inaccuracy of this statement with little regard for its absolute veracity.
Now, with all the garbage of the knowledge I have accumulated over nearly four decades of living, I confess …
I love you so much …
I love you so much that there are no words in any language in this world to tell you how much.

*(The Monster under the Shed from Thomas The Tank Engine’s Story Time collection)