I crouch down to speak more directly into the teary face of my sweet-cheeked four year-old. “Okay, so first you’ll go in the playground, then you’ll collect some sticks, bake a cake and then mommy comes to get you! You’re going to have so much fun.”
He screws up his face unconvinced, then picks up my shirt and sticks his head underneath.
“Julius, honey. I’ll be back so soon.”
“How soon?” His muffled voice asks my belly.
He pokes his head out. “Five minutes?”
“Well not five minutes, but close.” He can’t tell time. Five minutes. Three hours. Same thing.
He sniffles and looks skeptically around the familiar class. I feel him coming round.
“Remember, you’ll play in the playground, search for sticks, bake a cake, then mommy. Hey, like Dora!” He noticeably perks.
“Playground. Sticks. Cake. Mommy.” He gets it and nods, but still remains fixed to my side. I walk, with him attached like we’re in a potato sack race, to where some of his friends are building with blocks. Immediately, he drops to the floor and starts playing. Deep inward mommy sigh of relief. I kiss the top of his head goodbye, and he immediately stops his play to hug me vigorously.
“Kiss.” He orders and I bend down so his little lips can kiss me. “One more hug!” He squeezes the pee out of me, and returns to his blocks. I’m at the door, when I feel him behind me again. “One more hug!” And again we squeeze together, before we are ripped apart by the necessities of normal everyday life. He is four. It is only just beginning.
As I walk out the door and leave him playing contently with his friends, I am the one sniffling.
Which I realize is ridiculous. He is my third child. I’ve done this before, many times, yet each time, I still have the same pang of regret leaving. I even still feel that way watching the bus pull away with my older ones. “Have fun!” I wave them off with some relief, yet my brain is a jumble of mixed emotions. The most glaring is the vision of the horror movie bus driving off with the children waving innocently from the window. I can’t stand to think of that one, but somehow it’s always there. More reasonably (I think) is that I mourn the fact that they are big kids now and can go off on the big bus to lives outside of my little bubble. While I joyously take my few hours of freedom, it definitely makes me sad. I know, I’m crazy. No, it’s not crazy. Okay, now I sound crazy.
They say that it’s good for the children to separate and socialize and I’m sure they’re right, especially at the ages of my older boys who are seven and ten, but as I watch my four year-old son bravely hold it together and others in his class falling to pieces, I just have to wonder. Is it really good for them? They always say that once the parents leave, the kids generally settle into their routine and play happily. I believe that to be true. Either they’re happy and enjoying playing with their friends or they’ve submitted to the inevitable. They have no control, their parents are gone and there is simply nothing they can do but play with their play dough and wait.
I leave the pre-school and head straight to the gym, where I sweat my ass off in spin class. The whole time my brain is working harder than my body. I go through my to-do list. I edit an essay in my head and actually come up with an amazing opening paragraph which I spend at least three songs trying to memorize. And I think about my kids getting bigger and more independent. I’m so proud of them, and protective of them and in love with them, that I admit I’m a bit over sensitive to their growing up and me not being the most important person to them. Oh no – it’s one of my spin revelations. It happens sometimes when I’m sweating in this dark room with loud music with nothing but my own thoughts. It’s me. Damn. It’s me. My boys are doing fine. It’s me. I’m the one who has to grow up and learn how to let go.
Later, when I pick up Julius from Pre-K, his eyes twinkle as he jumps into my arms, but the hug is quick. One of his friends behind me is playing with two lego men, and he leaves me to investigate. My open arms are empty. My youngest boy is off and running. It’s going to take every ounce of effort not to chase after him.