September 9, 2013 was the first day of preschool for my eldest, “Flash.” We walked hand-in-hand; mine gripping his a little more tightly than usual. We walked towards the classroom door and my eyes began to well up. I realized I wasn’t only emotional about him “leaving the nest” for the first time, I was also anxious because I briefly stepped back into time to my first days of school. I remembered the separation anxiety. I remembered the bullying. I remembered the mean teachers. I remembered it all because, as I would tell my mom, “school was for fish.” I hated it.
So as I dropped Flash off, a myriad of questions raced through my head. Would my son experience the same anxiety? Would he adapt well and form close relationships? My experiences with school, as well as my natural concerns for my child, weren’t the only things on my mind. I worried about whether or not I’d make friends with the other moms. I found myself stirring up horrible hypothetical situations like I did as a kid. Will drop-off and pick-up be uncomfortable if I’m not friends with anyone? Will my son be excluded from events if I’m not wanted? This is a feeling we moms don’t often share with others. Let’s face it, we’re grown women and we should be past this, right? Well to a degree I was. I knew I had a strong network of friends, and if I didn’t mesh well with the school moms, I’d be just fine. But it would’ve stung, just like some childhood memories. Despite my rationalization, a small part of me continued to have the desire, or need, to make new friends. As I thought more about this need, I realized it was due to my desire to build a community around my son’s friends. The ability to connect with the school moms will make playdates and other interactions more enjoyable for both of us. Not to mention having the support network when I have school-related questions or concerns.
As the year went on, I saw the friendships building. Moms gathered in circles talking. I was watching a microcosm of what happens inside the school, only with moms in front of me. Cliques started to form, but unlike school, there were no mean girls. At that moment I wondered if Flash and I were living parallel lives, except mine was outside the school’s brick walls.
Once I became aware of and started to control my thoughts and feelings, I had a new concern. Were all of these worries affecting my son? I started looking out for any signs that he was anxious or nervous. I racked my brain for any indication that he’d been mistreated or not connecting with others. But then I thought back to that first day of school. I was the lone passenger aboard the HMS Hot Mess. I was the one holding his hand extra tight, not wanting to let go. I was the one barraging myself with hypothetical questions, not him. My independent, outgoing son didn’t look back once he stepped foot into that classroom. He kissed my cheek and walked bravely into this new world. And through the subsequent week, as I thought about mommy relationships, I hadn’t noticed that my son had made a ton of friends and was having the time of his life. If I projected my anxiety onto him, Flash would be dealing with unnecessary, negative thoughts and feelings that would permanently change his outlook on life and life’s experiences- and am I ever glad he dodged that bullet.
Now, every morning, my son and I still walk hand-in-hand to his classroom door. It’s a walk we’ll continue to take together for the next ten years. Except from here on out, I know that I don’t need to hold on so tightly.