A few weeks ago, I skipped my son's preschool graduation. The event was mostly for the kindergartners moving into elementary, but at the end of the ceremony, my son was supposed to stand on stage, turn around and be christened a kindergartner with the rest of his pre-K peers.
I had plenty of excuses not to go: It was hot, the baby was fussy, his sister had trouble sitting still, he didn't really want to go, the ceremony wasn't really for him, the list could go on. However, the real reason we didn't attend was because I wasn't ready to watch my baby become a kindergartner.
When his friend’s mother asked me why we hadn’t attended, I lied and said one of the aides had told me the event was only for the kindergartners. In reality, she had dismissed my son, telling him she would see him next year, which to me meant our presence was not required at the graduation ceremony. I took it as a sign that this was “no big deal,” but I was simply looking for an easy out.
I wasn’t ready to face the fact that my baby was no longer a baby anymore. I didn’t want to watch him turn his back to me, only to return to his forward facing position an entirely different kid. The rate at which his first five years had flown by scared me to death. I wanted things to slow down. I wanted to ignore the signs that he had moved from infant to toddler to preschooler to kindergartner.
There had been milestones before, sure, but something about this graduation ceremony seemed ominously weighty. The transition into real school was the thing that marked childhood from infancy, and I didn’t want to believe that moment was already here.
I can still remember kindergarten. I still have friends from that stage of my life. I remember the nervous energy of entering that classroom for the first time. I remember my teacher’s name and the first time I was sent to the principal’s office (yes, in kindergarten — I was a biter), I remember the feeling of my favorite sweater and the exact smell of the small closet where we hung our backpacks every morning. I remember the restless times when I wouldn’t nap during quiet time, and the thrill of learning to read and write.
My memories may be few and foggy around the edges, but I have memories nonetheless. Kindergarten is when time truly starts to count, when memories are first forged. It seemed unreal to me that my baby was entering the stage where his life, in his mind, would begin.
So instead of facing his preschool graduation and coming to terms with these difficult feelings, I took him down to the river for a walk. He didn't even realize he was missing his graduation as he marveled at the brazen ducks trying to coax him into giving up his crackers.
I watched him play at the park with his sister. I tried to be in the moment, savoring these last bits of time that belonged solely to my memory, and not his. But I couldn’t help feeling a pang of regret that I didn’t attend his graduation, because I knew kindergarten was still coming whether I marked it with a ceremony or not.
He's reminded me often, telling me and anyone else who would listen that he was a kindergartner. He beams with pride every time he says it. I know his graduation would have been a proud moment for him, one he would have regretted missing if he had known we were missing it.
Avoiding the moments that make me choke up with tears won't stop time from moving too quickly. Soon, I will still have to see him off to kindergarten, where he will make his own memories and his own life, separate from me. His limbs will grow longer, his independence will grow fiercer and our bond will grow into a new sort of animal.
The pain of watching my baby grow up will still find me, no matter how hard I try to escape it. So next year, when he walks across stage to be welcomed into the first grade, I will be there — proud, scared and as unprepared as ever.
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