I don't tell many people this story, for fear they'll think I've lost my marbles, but here it goes.
On the day my first child was born, as I was sitting in a hospital bed holding the most beautiful baby boy I'd ever laid eyes on, I looked up at my husband and said, "I don't want him to go to kindergarten."
My husband stood there dumbfounded, staring at me, his gaping mouth paralyzed, wondering why I was anxious about something five years in the future. He must have blamed it on the hormones and figured I'd get over it once the epidural wore off.
I never did. I knew then and there that I'd never want to let my son go. I wanted to shelter him, influence him, teach him and protect him for as long as possible.
It's now the dawn of his fifth birthday. Kindergarten is waiting in the wings. (So, too, is the school bus, the place where many of us learned our first swear word - and learned where babies come from. Or at least, where the older kids thought babies came from.)
Kindergarten makes normally levelheaded moms crazy with nervousness. Logically, we know it's a safe, nurturing place with teachers who are saints. (They have to be to intentionally stick themselves in an 18x20 classroom all day with 22 hyperactive 5-year-olds.)
But, like most of motherhood, it's not about logic. It's about heart.
Our hearts worry about which school is best. Public? Private? Religious? Home school? There are so many choices these days. I'm fairly certain my mom didn't debate such things. She just packed my tin Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox and sent me to the same school that she, my father and my grandfather attended. That was that.
Nowadays, it's not so simple. We wince at the thought of our child getting bullied or being left out. We wince more at the thought of our child bullying others or leaving someone else out. We cringe at what other kids will teach our children. And we downright fear tragedies like Columbine.
Adding to the normal worries, as a former news reporter, I also worry about stories I covered. Stories like child abusers, or a man who was permanently brain damaged when he choked on peanut butter.
Thankfully, since that day in the hospital, I've learned a few things about mothering. Tough as it may be, our job as parents is to give our children enough room - bit by bit, and always with our guidance - to find their own independence, legs and voice.
And, whether we like it or not, they grow up and demand independence. Already, my son tells me, "I know! I know!" when I remind him to wash his hands or to use his manners.
Luckily, I have most of this year to keep him under my wing. He starts kindergarten next fall - toward the end of his fifth year.
But next fall, I'll pack his tin lunchbox and send him off on the school bus with a cheerful face when it stops in front of my driveway. Then I'll walk back inside, bake cookies and cry as long as I want because letting go -even bit-by-bit -tugs at a mother's heart.
- Shasta Clark is a St. Clairsville native who lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, with her husband and two sons. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.