An open letter to my introverted son as he enters Kindergarten

I don’t remember ever feeling as alive as I did the moment you were placed into my arms. Everything before you – experiencing every first, momentous occasion during my childhood, my first awkward kiss in high school, falling in love (not once, but twice) in college, standing at the church alter in a breathtaking couture gown and marrying your Daddy in front of all of our loved ones, spotlights shining down on me as I stood on countless stages throughout my life in front of hundreds of people – none of it compared to the day you were born, my baby boy. You made me a mother, the greatest role I’ll ever play on life’s stage. And since that day, motherhood has ignited a flame in my soul and has let me truly feel emotions I never knew existed.

When you have a baby, sentiments are tossed at you from every direction. You’re told to cherish every moment because time goes by so quickly. Before you know it, your little bundle of joy will be headed off to college! The days are long, but the years are short. You have exactly 18 summers with your child, so you better make them count. You don’t know the meaning of love until you have a child. You’ll never experience a deeper pain than the first time someone hurts your child. Cherish and document every single milestone! But nobody tells you how emotional you’ll feel the night before your baby’s first day of kindergarten.

Boy, was that a tough one for me to navigate, baby boy. You’ve always been by my side – my buddy, my little love, my favorite person. We are one in the same – sensitive, compassionate, artistic and introverted. When you were a baby, your first day of kindergarten seemed ages away. Our long, sleepless nights and even longer caffeine-fueled days were spent in our own little cocoon, nursing, watching movies, taking photos and cuddling. Even after your sister was born, you and I were still thick as thieves, sneaking in naps together and cracking jokes about how “baby-like” she was; because at 2.5, you were practically a grownup, yourself.

When we dropped you off at preschool last year, I’m pretty sure I cried the entire 2.5 hours you were away, and I don’t think I stopped hugging you that afternoon until you forced yourself out of my grip. I laugh at myself, looking back on that now. 2.5 hours, ha! What I would give to have those days back.

But then, sometime around the beginning of July, a letter arrived in mail, letting your Daddy and I know that a kindergarten orientation was scheduled for the end of August. When did that happen? How did 5 years go by in the blink of an eye? Holy cow, they were right! Everybody who told me that “the days are long, but the years are short” were right! Why didn’t I believe them? Why didn’t I cherish those 5 years… more? Was it even possible? How was I going to let you, my baby boy, go out into the world on your own?

That last month of summer leading up to kindergarten was really, really tough on me. I’m sure you didn’t notice, though,  because I made a conscious effort to fill those days with fun activities and exaggerated excitement on my front when talking about school. I knew that I had to, because you are so similar to me. I knew you would need that reassurance from your Mama that kindergarten was going to be fun and exciting. It’s not something you could get from your Daddy, or even something that he could understand, fully. Because he is an extrovert – a true “people person” to the core. But, just like me, as an introvert, I knew you needed to be pumped up and motivated. And even the slightest bit of nervousness from me would have been the breaking point for you.

Something changed for me on the morning of you kindergarten orientation, though. It was much more positive and exciting than I expected it to be. I walked into that auditorium, holding your hand a little too tightly, and I looked around at all of the parents (mostly moms) and nervous kids, and just it hit me: We are all in this together. 

I took comfort in the faces of the kids, first and foremost. Most of them looked just as nervous as you. One little girl, quite honestly,  just looked downright pissed that she had to be there. I liked her immediately and secretly hoped that you would become friends with her. Then we spotted a boy with the same backpack as you (a somewhat controversial choice, based off of your love for scary things), and a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. (As fate would have it, the two of you would be assigned to the same classroom and become best friends, almost immediately.)

I realized that while this is the end of all that the two of us have known – all of our routines, and comforts and lazy days at home together, in the cocoon we have so meticulously created – it’s also the beginning. It’s the beginning of your life, baby boy. It’s the beginning of your solid foundation of memories. It’s the beginning of everything. 

Looking around that room, I saw seasoned mothers who have “been there, done that” and were most likely sending their last child off to school. And I saw new mothers, who looked just as eager and nervous as me.  And I saw their kids, the boys and girls who you will grow up with. The children in that room will be your peers for the next 13 years. Some of them will be your friends. Some will be your enemies. And some, the lucky ones, will be your girlfriends (but not for a very long time, OK?).

Perhaps you will play soccer with some of them. Perhaps you will share a stage with others. Some of the kids in that room that day might end up being your best friends. They might be the children who spend weekend nights and long summer days at out home. Some of them might go on vacations with us. They will grow into the teenage boys who eat all of my food and play basketball on our half court in the backyard after school. I’m sure I will find myself holding the same Nikon that your Aunt Natalie snapped your birth photos with, taking portraits of your doe-eyed prom dates in our living room. All of these kids were in that room, on your kindergarten orientation. And that’s a pretty cool thing, if you think about it. You probably won’t remember that day, but I most certainly will.

I know there will be hard times, baby boy. I know, because I have been there. And I know this is the biggest change and transition in your life, thus far. But you, my love, are doing it with more grace and confidence than I am. And I take comfort in the fact that I am sending off a better version of myself into the world.

Be good. And kind. Be ever so kind. Be loving and honest. And shine. But above all, sweet boy, be yourself. Don’t let anyone or anything change you. And always know, I’ve got your back. You truly are, and will always be, my favorite person. Now, go out into the world and show everybody why.

Photo credit: Danielle Kowalski

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Danielle is a Pittsburgh native who has been warming her “black and gold” blood in sunny Northern California for the past 6 years. On any given day, you can find her arranging ridiculous photo shoots of her one-year-old son Graeme and cat Gizmo, or working on any one of her 27,000 writing projects. She enjoys daydreaming about becoming a famous actress and starting a handful of different businesses with her husband over glasses of wine in the evenings. Someday, she hopes to travel the country in an RV with her family… but she needs to sell that novel first. You can follow her journeys through her blog With A Red Bird On My Shoulder

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