When 1st grade started, the kids and I developed a routine that included me walking them to their lineup spots on the playground, waiting for the bell to ring while they played, then alternating which of them I walked with to their classroom. I was one of many 1st grade parents who continued this pattern all throughout the school year. The kids would fight over which day belonged to whom, so much that we started including whose day it was on our morning task board. Often the teachers showed up separated by enough time that I could walk one of them to class with time enough to turn around and meet up with the other’s class. It meant not getting to work until 8:30 and only getting a half an hour for lunch instead of an hour so that I could leave by 5pm, but the extra time I got with the kids in the morning, and even the extra socializing I did with the other parents definitely made it worth it.
When 2nd grade started, J told me the second week of school that she didn’t want me to walk her to class any longer. She told me this in the car on the way home from gymnastics, which was good because I instantly had tears in my eyes. I walked in the house and H was cooking dinner, and I tried to shake it off, because I didn’t want J to know that I was upset about it – because I know this is the natural progression of things. I didn’t want her to feel badly for wanting to have a little more independence. Of course I couldn’t hide it and H did say something but I made it clear that it was ok she wanted to walk without me.
Two days later, it was her turn again, and she had changed her mind. She wanted me to walk with her. I checked and double checked with her to make sure SHE wanted it, and wasn’t just saying it for my sake.
The past few weeks, the pattern has been just like 1st grade, alternating who gets walked each day. Yesterday I prepped them that today I couldn’t walk with either of them, because I had an early meeting and needed to get to the office so that I could make the meeting on time. This wasn’t a new thing, it happened more than once last year, too, so they were fine with it.
This morning, as I do, I reminded them that I wasn’t going to be able to walk with them. J asked if we could do “curb” dropoff (instead of me parking across from the school and walking them to the playground gate). I said that it would depend on how bad the car line was when we got there.
“I feel really proud when we do curb dropoff. I feel…taller!” J says as she’s finishing her bowl of cereal. I take this in as I finish making their lunches.
We loaded up the car and I pulled around to the school to find the car line relatively small so I pulled in and right up in front of the gate. J says, “SO EXCITING!!” and she leans in and gives me a kiss on the cheek. “Off you go,” I say, and as I turn around I see that N’s lower lip is starting to quiver. “What’s wrong, buddy?” He’s silent. J says “I think he’s sad.” I realize what’s going on and ask him if he wants me to walk him to the playground. He nods wordlessly. I tell J to go on ahead and close the car door and I pulled into a spot in the parking lot. He holds my hand as I walk him to the gate and I start to give him a hug there only to realize he’s holding onto me fairly tightly. So I walk him a bit further onto the school grounds and say my goodbyes from the playground and make sure before I leave that I catch sight of J (on the monkey bars, of course) before I hurry to my car.
It struck me, as I was driving to my office, how as hard as this age is for me as their mom it must be 10 times harder for them. I want them to stay my babies – to be little and need me and want me around. But I also want them to learn to be independent, and figure out that they have control over their environment and that they can be proud of their independence. But I understand intellectually that this is part of their development, even when watching it makes my heart ache. Can you imagine, though, how confusing it must be to want your mommy but not want her? And to not understand how to express that? I was really proud of J for being able to tell me that it makes her feel proud to not have me walk her to class – it showed a really strong sense of emotional self-awareness that I’ve watched really develop since the start of summer this year.
I wish I could say honestly that when they ask me to walk with them, that I do it for them. The reality is, they’re more than capable of being dropped off at the curb and running in to be with their friends. I’m the one holding on to this vestige of dependence. I can argue that I do it because I get very little time with them during the week and walking with them gives me 10 more minutes with each of them the days that I do it. But if I’m really being truthful, I want to say, “Walk with me. Please. Stop growing so fast. Walk with ME.”
I’m struggling a lot this year with their growing independence. And I know I should revel in it, and I know I should be proud of us as parents that they are confident enough (most of the time) to push their own boundaries knowing all the while we will be here to catch them if they need it. I am so very proud of them, and grateful that we are raising them to be strong individuals. But at the end of the day, when J wants to sit on my lap or hold my hand as we walk down the stairs, or when N sits next to one of us with his arms around us on the couch – I want to simply freeze the moment and breathe it in. I want to make those seconds a part of the fabric of who I am so that when they’re teenagers and they slam doors and yell “FINE!” and tell me I don’t understand what it’s like, I can reach for those moments and remember.
Tonight I’ll go in and set each of their alarms for school tomorrow, kiss them each on the forehead, and make sure they’re warm enough. We’ll get up in the morning and once again we’ll eat breakfast, make lunches, and argue about how slowly they’re getting ready. We’ll load up the car with backpacks and they’ll buckle into their big kid booster seats, and I’ll park across from school.
And I’ll think, “Walk with me.”