Advice For Handling The Jump To Kindergarten

You know that dream where you show up to school and you look down and realize you forgot to get dressed? Not even in pajamas, you are somehow completely and totally naked? Well, I’m fairly certain my dreams last night were the first-time school parent equivalents.

In this dream, I overslept causing my littlest one to miss her first day of spielgruppe (Switzerland’s preschool) and giving me only 11 minutes to get my oldest up and ready for kindergarten and my feet were dragging behind my body like I was running through water. In real life, the day before, I’d already packed both girls’ bags and I was feeling good. Yet still, some sort of anxiety, my old friend, must have been tickling my subconscious. After all of the anticipation of more “me time,” I have been shocked by my tenderness and big emotions as my children start preschool and kindergarten.

The kids couldn’t be more ready

My 5-year-old couldn’t be more ready to start kindergarten. She adores kids of all ages and stripes. Her excitement bubbles over into frenzied gallops around playgrounds when a new person crosses her path. Everyone is her friend. Every new experience is welcomed with open arms. But my emotions haven’t caught up.

I’ve never been a super sappy mom. I don’t usually sit and ogle my kids and bask in the glory of their presence. It drives me crazy when people say: “enjoy every moment because it goes so fast.” I don’t enjoy and have never enjoyed and will never miss certain things: changing my kids diapers, endless nights waking up every 45 minutes, painful breastfeeding or that moment when one of my people start freaking the heck out in the middle of the checkout line and everyone is staring at me. Nope. Send these days on their way with pleasure.

But lately, I have developed a stealthy emotional overdrive when passing random milestones: it hit me hard when we cleared out a significant stash of baby stuff, or the day that I decided to finally get my oldest girl’s gnarly hair cut. It was long and knotty and her baby mullet had grown out into a split-ended ringlet that spun a good three inches below the rest of her hair line. I marched her to the salon, squeezed into a walk-in slot and smiled as she was spritzed and detangled. But the moment the scissors hit her hair, the white strands plopping to the floor, I turned into sappy mush mom, emotions ablaze and raw.

How emotions sneak up on us

I didn’t recognize myself.  I didn’t even feel connected to my emotions. I wondered why the heck I was crying at a silly haircut. Four-year-olds have haircuts and my kid definitely needed one. But there I was, wet cheeked and snapping pictures, scooping up the severed curls for what might one day be a treasured keepsake.

Then came June’s kindergarten introduction day, a two-hour meet-up for kids with their teachers and classmates. I’d been taking her to drop-off playgroup for a year in the very same building. You’d think I’d have been fine. I thought I was fine. In fact, I hadn’t even thought of my own readiness until she strapped on her inside shoes, walked into the room with a pile of new friends and suddenly my heart hid in my throat, my eyes started leaking and I was left shocked. Though I should have been clued in with the haircut nonsense, I felt like I had been emotionally blindsided. I had become “that mom”.

Suddenly my girl, whose attitude and eye rolls seemed so big at home (I often DREAMED of sending her off somewhere — does Americorps take 5-year-olds?), seemed so tiny and impressionable, so open and so completely unaware of what the school years will bring. All at once, my girl seemed vulnerable. It’s something every parent knows, of course, but somehow we see past all of that so that we can function from minute to demanding minute. So when they leave our care, that magical shield that obscures our vision is lifted and no matter how many tiny steps we have taken toward giving them independence, passing our little ones on to these unknown faces is a shock to the heart.

There is a huge part of me filled with pride. I wish for my daughters a life filled with challenge and triumph and discovery. And yet I know that along with these things will come hurt and embarrassment and fear. A part of me would love if life came with a check list: yes please to intellectual challenge and beautiful friendships, no thanks to bullies. But knowing my own path, I know that the greatest self discovery comes from facing the things we’d wish away for our children and learning to choose wisely and with character and heart.

The big day is finally here

Today was the first day of kindergarten for my oldest, and preschool for my youngest, and I sat in a quiet house and thought: “OK, this is actually really good. I’m ready now. They’re ready.”

No one struggled as I dropped them off and I think I may have had all of my cries now. I’m slowly wrapping my brain around this new routine. Learning new schedules, new groups of parents and kids and lists, organizing my time so that I actually do the things I say I want to do (hello, more yoga!). I am excited for my girls, for all of our friends on this path, for their big new world opening up for them. I’m excited for this phase of our family life, with new branches sprouting independence for all of us.

And so my role transitions from one of presenting experiences to them to one of supporting their own experiences; from one of protection to one of compassion; from one at the center to one that will move gradually toward periphery.

If I could keep you little

A couple of summers ago, my mom bought a book for us to keep at her house, a bedtime story for vacation. It’s called If I Could Keep You Little by Marianne Richmond and her words sums it up nicely: “If I could keep you little, I’d keep you next to me. But then I’d miss you growing into who you’re meant to be.”

Don’t be fooled, though. Soon enough, knowing me, I’ll be complaining that the school days aren’t long enough for me to accomplish anything on my “oh so realistic” to-do list.

So all of you parents riding that line between holding on and letting go, I wish you loads of strength to ride out these first few days of the school year and all the best for the big adventures ahead.

Tips for handling surprising emotions

  • Try to reframe any sense of loss into a sense of new adventures. Our kids will still need us, but just as we moved from milk to solids, the form that their need takes will change but never really go away.
  • Time apart makes time together even more special. Consider things you can share, like starting a school journal you work on together to document / draw any fun experiences at school.
  • Create a projects folder to collect all of the art and school work your kids will be bringing home in droves.
  • Smile at the other parents during drop off. Chances are several of them are newbies, too, and you might strike up a conversation with other parents in your shoes.
  • Look ahead a couple of weeks and think about how the new routine will be settling in over time. One day soon you’ll be ahead of the bumps and into a groove.
Advice For Handling The Jump To Kindergarten #kindergarten #firstdayofschool

This post contains an affiliate link for the book If I Could Keep You Little by Marianne Richmond. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links I will receive a small commission.

Kindergarten scene via Shutterstock. This post contains affiliate links.

12 thoughts on “Advice For Handling The Jump To Kindergarten”

  1. Lovely post. It’s so great that you are in touch with your emotions, and got to have those little cries. It’s so nice to read something that empathises with how the parent feels about letting go. I can totally relate to the anxiety dream, I was up at 530 this morning, as I was so anxious to be ready, and even R who normally sleeps till 8 or 9 woke at 6.30!

    1. Thanks so much, Kate. Isn’t it funny how we think we’ve “got it” and our bodies betray those emotions that are milling around inside. All the best to your and R’s adventures into the school years!

  2. My first reaction to this was how it seems so largely dependent on your own child’s emotions with regard to the big event, whatever it may be! I suppose if my boy was also very outgoing and sociable and would happily put shoes on and go and meet new friends, I’d also get a bit emotional and nostalgic 🙂 But as it is, with my boy clinging to me and needing his ninety minutes of warm-up time before he makes eye contact with a potential friend, I find myself having to be overtly calm (is there such a thing?), friendly and sociable during that time, so aware that I have to be a good role model with social interaction, and not to push him, just to wait and to trust him… which is hard when really all I want to do it also hide, haha 😀 And so when he finally DOES step away from me, I have such a sense of relief, such a release, and such a strong desire to ensure that those first five minutes without him glued to me go REALLY well, or else we are kind of screwed… Parenting can be complicated!

    1. Of course! No parenting situation is identical to the next person’s situation. Even my girls are so vastly different that I’m surprised they’re related at times! 😉 The little one has to hold my finger at all times or “it hurts”. I hope your days of school will give you your much needed time to breath.

  3. Loved your post Tara! I have hard time going through my kids’ milestones, I get to be very emotional and I find your tips really useful. And even if it isn’t first time at school this year for Zoe I know I will be anxious..

    1. Thanks so much, I hope you have a great year. Since this is our first shot at it I wasn’t sure if parents of older kids felt the same, but thinking on it now, of course they would — bigger kids, bigger concerns. Wishing you and Zoe the best for the school year!

  4. We’re back to school next week. Not quite sure what to expect. It’s his second year so I feel like it should be smooth, but after the holidays, who knows! Then my little one will be starting Krippe too… Sounds like things got off to a decent start for you guys anyway x

    1. Good luck! We’re getting along. I think the first couple of weeks will be a big transitions and then fall break and we’ll do it all over again. 😉

  5. Even though I am a huge member of the “yay, more me-time club” I always tear up. Kindergarten orientation, first day, turnip parade, nativity play, you name it. It’s part letting go, and it’s part pride. Look how far he has come, marching in there, making friends, learning new things,… MY BABY!!!
    Can you believe parents weren’t even invited to the first day of 3rd grade? I haven’t met his new teacher, and I probably won’t till “performance review” in 6 months’ time.
    So glad your Kindergarten girl is embracing every aspect of her new life!

    1. Oh the paradox! Where is me, where is my heart! I totally agree, the tears are part letting go, part pride. I used to be so annoyed by my mom’s proud tears. I really never understood the depth of that feeling. Pride is usually a word used to describe personal accomplishment or parents of olympians, not kids walking in a parade, but nevertheless, that’s it isn’t it. 🙂 That heart just swells right up and you have no choice but to cry. But in a couple of weeks when the house is quiet, I will be back to the “yay more me-time” club! 😉

  6. Kate

    I loved reading this so much. We often think of our children and how they feel and how they will do that we only notice how we feel when we finally release them into the world, or spielgruppe! We will see how I do next week with this same situation! I’m trying to enjoy all the last long days at the badi and will take Monday on when it comes. In the meantime, keep calm and carry on, right? A thought that sticks with me is when you said your daughter looked so tiny sitting there in the classroom. I can see that happening for me next week. Goodness. Such an emotional rollercoaster awaits!

    1. Best of luck to you Kate! I’d love to hear how it goes. Maybe KG should come with a cafe next door so all of the moms can slowly transition with the help of their parent-friends. 😉 Here’s to the new world!

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