Letting My Preschooler Go

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I have been a full-time mom since this little lady was still a baby. I always thought I’d be a working person, a career woman. Until it became clear to me that my daughter needed my care, needed a little extra attention. She didn’t eat or sleep well as a very small baby, and I had severe OCD PPD with her for so many months of her infancy that I couldn’t even experience the joy of new motherhood. It was all anxiety and sleeplessness.

I remember a select few moments when she would sleep and I would look at her and a overwhelming love would break my heart. When that feeling came more often than the thoughts of self-harm and loathing, I knew that I was getting out of my PPD and into mothering. And it is the most trying, most beautiful job in the world. It is a job. Ignore people when they say it’s not. It’s not always something I want to do, it’s not always fun, but I do my best work mothering because the end result matters so much. So I decided, a Master’s degree in hand, job offer lined up, to be a full-time mother. It was a decision I made work in a way I know that not everyone can. I’m not even suggesting everyone should. It was simply what I thought my daughter needed.

You see, she has always been emotionally fragile, ready to storm or cry or jump with joy, always in the most extreme ways. I knew she needed me when she was a baby, infant, toddler. Even as a very small baby (13 months), just putting clothing on her took a good twenty minutes. Nothing was comfortable. Every pair of pants would be discarded because they were too itchy, too long, too tight. She would scream about the way a certain piece of clothing felt on her, and throw tremendously long fits. So I learned to let her wear fleece pajamas. No big deal. But eating, sleeping even playing have to be approached in a certain way or it becomes another explosion.

She’s smart. She’s five and will listen to chapter books being read for an hour, remembering and reciting lines that stick out to her and asking pertinent and difficult questions about the content. She will imagine scenarios for play that blow my mind, so detailed and precise. But she’s only five and reasoning is still difficult, especially since her moods are more severe than some. She has to find her calm, and she’s learning to, as we all must, but it’s just a little harder for her than some.

So I stuck by her side, helping her learn and grow and play, allowing her to attend preschool for three hours when she was 3 to 4, so she could socialize, even though every morning was a fight. It is sometimes trying, but it has mostly been really wonderful to be with her (and her brother, who was born two years later) every day. We had tea parties, read great books, went on trail walks, visited museums, played at the park, baked together, and learned how to deal with each other’s highs and lows.

But this week she starts Kindergarten. She is no longer a toddler or a baby, but she is still my child. Watching her take her seat in class broke something inside me. It wasn’t the first time I’ve let her go, but it seemed like the most significant. I know how to deal with her storms and her teachers won’t. I know what her looks mean, and they can’t. She is my reason for joy, but she is only another student when in class.

And I understand it all, now. The many times my mother shed tears over this or that milestone–a school play, sending me off to Junior High, my first dances, my first car, the day I left for college. I couldn’t know how difficult it was for her to let go, but I do now. And I’m not ready for it, even though it’s here.

I know this week has been hard for her. I’ve received calls about some fits I knew would come, been asked questions about how to care for her, what to tell her, when to let her be. And I just wanted to step in and do it all.

“I’ll pick her up, if she needs me to.”

But it’s their job to keep kids in school. “No. It’s okay. Thank-you for telling us what you do at home. That helps.”

I want to yell that I need her now, too. That my days are still busy but with things that just don’t matter as much. But I let her go when I signed her up for school. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. She’s not far away, but she is doing her little kid job. She’s learning to be without me. It’s terrifying. I am frightened every moment of the day, wondering if she is having a hard time with other kids, with the lessons, with life…if she thinks I’m abandoning her, or don’t want her around.

I wrote a poem for my mother, not long after I had Clara, when mothering and anxiety and tears seemed to go hand-in-hand. I love that poem today more than I loved it then. Because now, I am that mother letting go.

Mother-Letting-Go

Uncontainable, implacable strength

in a length of all, five-foot five.

Graceful, swift movements, juggling

a multitude of lives, errands, jobs,

heart breaks, burdens and joys.

Boundless energy, quick dancing

step-by step, building four lives

better than what she was

born with, dealt with, ran from.

She ran towards us, full womb,

overflowing mother breasts bursting,

always giving life, giving

what she did not have.

That moment of release, standing

half-in, half-out of the home she labored in,

disciplined in, bled and sweat in,

clinging to the threshold,

fingertips white and strained,

desperate to reach out and take back,

eyes running, brown shimmering orbs

crying for me to go, begging me to stay

and become her baby again.

Heart heavily laden with the moment,

holding it fresh in an blur-thick memory—

understanding what immature neurons

threw away for a chance at a life

more exciting, more learned, less rural—

that in that snap-shot frame of a moment,

I broke the wildly in love being,

waving to her, encompassed

by the smell of a rental car,

the promise of a child-dream,

and the ignorance of one who

did not know what it took

to be a mother-letting-go

hmjonesH.M. Jones is the author of Monochrome, re-released by Gravity, and imprint of Booktrope. She is also a contributing author to Masters of Time. She has self- published many of her poems, and has also been accepted as a contributing poet to several poetry anthologies, including My Cruel Invention and No More Shame. She is releasing a spooky love story Sept. 2015 entitled “Tiptoe Through Time.” She spends most of her time making sure her children are well-rounded, open-minded citizens of this world, making play dough and having tea parties.

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10 thoughts on “Letting My Preschooler Go

  1. Powerful and vivid; your story brings back lots of memories. The daycare center where I took my son had a big window next to the front door, so when I left him for preschool he would stand inside, I would stand outside, and we’d press our fingers to the window together in the “I love you” sign from American Sign Language.

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  2. I’m a father of one, a stepfather of one, and I was a teacher for 30 years. I think your daughter needs you more than ever but in a different phase of mothering—her supporter and partner K to 6 and hopefully 7th and 8th. But eventually, most children when they reach adolescence will probably signal that they want less support but parents are still important even when our children are 30 or 40 or 50. When they are adults, we offer them a safety net as long as we are here and we can become their most trusted friends and allies.

    There’s this formula I learned as a teacher that explains how a child’s education works—we don’t hear this much. Today we hear all too often the lie that what a child learns is all the responsibility of the child’s teachers. That is totally wrong. Teaching a child to learn is a partnership between the teachers and the parents all the way through 12th grade.

    Teachers teach + children learn + parents support both the teacher and children and this adds up to the answer of the child’s education. If one of those three element is missing, the child’s odds of becoming an avid reader and a lifelong learner drop significantly.

    In both of the children I helped raise, my son and stepdaughter, I was involved in their education from k – 12, and I learned that daughters are so much easier to be involved with in their education to a certain extent that shrinks as they age. By the time our daughter reached college, she was totally ready to take responsibility for her entire education and she did. She graduated from Stanford in June of 2014, has been working full time for more than a year and is engaged to be married next May.

    And I haven’t forgotten when she was six and when we were out for a family walk that her hand was so small that when she wanted to hold my hand, all she could hold was my smallest finger. If we walked too far and she got tired, she sat easily on my shoulders—-light as a feather—and played with the hair on my head seeing if she could tie it into knots.

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    • I think that’s really true, Lloyd. My mother is an educator for Junior High, and would agree that having the support of a parent in what shes does really makes the learning process smoother. I will remember that, as I go forward with my little ones, and I will engage their teachers and help when I can. We do a lot of learning in the home, by baking, coloring, sharing stories, reading and taking them to museums and historic and cultural sites/events. I think that’s still important. Thank you for sharing your experience and for your lovely thoughts at the end, which just lifted my heart. I like hearing from those who have lived to see their children bloom, as it makes me understand better what I will face in the coming years. Beautiful words.

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      • You are welcome. You said, “We do a lot of learning in the home, by baking, coloring, sharing stories, reading and taking them to museums and historic and cultural sites/events. I think that’s still important..”

        This is super great. Keep it up even when they are teens and even older. My wife and stepdaughter toured Europe together one summer when she was sixteen. They stopped in New York on the way across the Atlantic and saw several Broadway plays and then in London saw more. Even when she was a student at Stanford, her mother went with her to China for an entire summer when she was involved in an internship with a non-profit organization of heart doctors who went to one of the poorest regions in China to treat children who had heart problems. After daughter checked in for her eight week internship, mother took off to Shanghai to visit friends and family.

        Parents and their children should be doing things together throughout life. As they grow older, the adult children will have their own lives apart from their parents but parents will still be part of their parents lives.

        Daughter is now engaged. Guess who went with her when she was shopping for her wedding dress—her mother. They spend an entire day together in San Francisco. As our children grow and mature, our relationship with them grow, evolve and mature too.

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  3. So many memories! I wish you strength, as it’s really hard sending a child to kindergarten. I remember crying so much, especially after my younger one started. Fortunately, it gets easier, as there’s also something wonderful about seeing your child grow and flourish. This is a big year for me, as I now have two in high school, but I know that’s nothing compared to sending them off to college. I guess all we can do is cherish the times we have with them and hope they want to spend time with us when they’re independent. The poem is stunning.

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  4. You’re a beautiful writer, Hannah. Your poem filled my heart to bursting! It’s a cycle I reflect frequently on as I parent/mother/nurture/love my own children… I think often of my own mother and how she must have experienced these same emotions over me.

    My oldest just started first grade, our first foray into having a child in someone else’s care “full-time.” I feel so happy for him, but so sad for me. Because I miss him. Because he needs me less. Because the clock that measures his little boyhood is ticking away. My mom had a keychain for years and years that said, “Motherhood is not for wimps.” I get it now. I so get it now.

    I hope Clara is blossoming in Kindergarten.

    Jaime (your high-five fellow 100-hour reader from the local Wal-Mart)

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    • Thank-you, Jaime. She’s doing much better as she grows used the the school. I’ve been taking extra care to make sure she has good days by getting her to sleep on time and offering her rewards in extra time bonding when she’s home. I think it’s going well, and she’s making friends, which she’s had such a hard time doing in the past. I hope your little first grader is having a ball. It is sadder for the parents, I know. 😦 I appreciate your kind words and wish you all the best with your children and your life.

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