Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes on her son’s first day of school.
I’m breaking my rule of not writing about mothering without letting my thoughts sit for a while. It’s a thing I try to do, a luxury for a blogger slash internet writer type person. Most people in I don’t know what to call it “online media” don’t get much time to think things through – deadlines and all that. Being first. Luckily, nobody is desperately waiting for my hot takes on the inanity of my life.
So usually I wait and let things percolate. I don’t want to embarrass my kids, I want to make sure the story I’m telling is mine to tell – important stuff when you write about your whānau for a little corner of the world to see. But not today. So if you’re wanting much coherence maybe stop reading now. But I figured it was useful to share the raw feelings now since I’m sure we will be feeling differently in a week or maybe even days. That’s parenting. And I suppose there’s always the edit function, just don’t tell my editor.
Today was the big day. The first day of school. I couldn’t sleep last night. I was excited for him. But also terrified. But really, mainly excited. He’s been ready for this day. His “Big Tomorrow”. We didn’t rush into it, wanting to wait until he was ready-ready. My neurosis was probably behind that which I hope he’ll forgive me for.
If I ever have to explain these things to my first born child, maybe when he’s holding his first born child, what will I say? Can you ever explain it? This weight?
Will I tell him that I feel a physical pull toward him always? That the depth of love you have for your child is so extraordinary it steals you from yourself? How can I explain to him that there are moments where you think it’s literally impossible to love your child more but then they turn and look at you a year or more from then and you can’t breathe all over.
How do I tell him birth is just one of a thousand beginnings? That the agony of labour is so physical but then rushing from the classroom door on their first day of school so they don’t see your tears is some other kind of deep pain. For me at least – just as raw, just as frightening, just as unfathomable?
I had planned the morning, of course I had. He would excitedly wave us off, my husband and I would celebrate, hi-five each other for a job well done, and then I’d go off to work. The best laid plans and all that, because instead I caught a vicious vomiting bug days before. The joy of children (I never had gastro before I had kids). Though I’d finally stopped puking a day before, I hadn’t eaten properly yet. I was weak and feeling pretty vulnerable. And when he whispered “stay” and called me Dear Mama even though he hasn’t called me that for so long, of course I did.
He was overwhelmed – a mother knows, can see it in that furrowed brow, the flushed cheeks, the hands that won’t stop moving. He looked so confused by it all. I know he’d been to school in his mind so many times and this wasn’t how it was there. And so he retreated back to his father and I. Small again.
And this I suppose is the mundane hard stuff of parenting – that you must somehow encourage your heart out of your body to beat on its own. The pain of that separation, even as symbolic as it sometimes feels, cuts deep. I remember once hearing that sacrifice must hurt, that it must empty you to be real. And I didn’t grasp it. But today as I walked away from his school with my heart inside those classroom walls, I felt so hollow.
This is the goal. Every step they take into the world we walk with them until they can walk on their own. What was once described by another mother as “the highest and hardest sacrifice of motherhood – to encourage the one we love above all else to be happy and confident without us, and all of this as every day we love them more.”
I’d imagined I’d leave proud and happy and I was struck by my fear as I said to one of the teachers “Please, look after my baby” my tears threatening to overflow. The only advice that kept being repeated to me ahead of today – “Don’t cry in front of them!” – churned in my head I was shocked and quite horrified by the intensity of the grief I felt.
I mean it’s only school right? I will see him in literally hours. The day is barely longer than kindy. Shorter than a work day. And as my husband said: “This is not something to be upset about, it’s literally what is meant to happen. They are meant to grow up.”
Yes. Yes, I know.
I can’t explain that I’m not upset in that way. I am not sad. I am everything. A thousand screaming neurons on fire. I’m sending my heart into the world and I have to rely on everyone else to protect this heart. I have to protect this heart.
And then I saw, a mother in her car, crying too. First day of kindy? First day of school? On her way to a specialist appointment? Carrying a new life? Just overwhelmed? I don’t know her story. But I knew her heart was somewhere.
I know that there are tiny hearts outside of the bodies of their mothers. And we are holding them, and holding them, and hoping that our little hearts grow big and strong. These hearts of ours that must live outside of us.
All these little hearts.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.