How To Break Your Mother’s Heart: “I Can Walk In By Myself, Mama”

Someone woke up on the melodramatic side of the bed this morning.

You’ve been warned.

Ahem.

One of the things I have missed since starting back to work again is taking Sadie to school.  I miss the time in the car with her: her bossing me around and insisting on her craptastic music, while criticizing the snacks I lovingly prepared for her.  I just don’t get that kind of attention from my colleagues at work.

I also miss communing with (some of) the moms at the school, and I miss watching the kids waiting for that exciting moment when their teacher opens the door and ushers them in for 2.75 glorious hours of circle time, free choice, and book buddies.

Last night, I decided to stay up late to finish my work so I would be able to take Sadie to school.  It was like old times– she complained when I didn’t play the princess songs in the right order, and she blamed me for hitting a bump and making her spill the applesauce all over her pants.  I was all aglow with the familiarity of the routine and the little dance of love between me and Sadie.

Miss Independent

Miss Independent

When we rolled up to school, Sadie casually mentioned, “I walk in by myself now, Mama.”  Like a good mother, I ignored her because (1) I didn’t think I liked the sounds of her not needing me, and (2) I get the shakes when someone changes my routine– and me not walking Sadie all the way inside to her classroom? That’s a big honking change.

When it was time for the children to go inside Sadie erupted in her trademark giggles as she dove from the car to the school.   Ahhhh, this is what I have missed, I thought as I watched the tallest girl in the class pat Sadie’s head companionably.  I was holding the door to the school open for the kids when Sadie blew me a kiss and disappeared up the stairs.

Whaaaaaaaaaaa? Wait? What?

She must have been serious about that “walking in alone” thing, because there I was standing on the sidewalk solo watching little kids stuffed into colorful puffy jackets stampede up the stairs.

My tears were right there.  I thought about the last time I walked Sadie all the way to her classroom– it was two Fridays ago. I had no idea it was my last time.

On my walk back to the car, I pictured her standing outside her classroom door, waiting with all her friends in what is more fully her world now– my place in her world now stops on the sidewalk.  Everything from the sidewalk forward? Her territory.

I called a mom friend on the way home, choking back tears, trying to explain how utterly proud and thoroughly sad I feel about having a little independent girl who gave me the big old “I can’t take her from here, Mama” today.

Only a mom could know exactly what to say to my plaintive question “Why does this hurt so much?”

Answer: “Because mothering is all about celebrating the moments when your children move forward while you watch them go with a mix of pride, melancholy, and profound emptiness.”

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33 thoughts on “How To Break Your Mother’s Heart: “I Can Walk In By Myself, Mama”

    • I thought about it, but she looked so happy– radiant– to be doing it alone and showing me that she could. I felt like I had to honor that in some way…for example, but not grabbing her backpack and tackling her to the ground.

  1. Mm, yeah, my parents still talks about when I told her I didn’t need them to dress me anymore. I could dress myself. I couldn’t match, but I could put the clothes on. Way to handle it well!

    • It’s so tempting to make it all about me (which I did with this post, of course), but now she’s got her own stories and her own everything….I gotta get (and keep) my own life.

      • Hey, you have the writing and the working and all that jazzy jazz you do so well! What is circle time? Though I vote for incorporating free choice into our adult lives. Like, I would choose to take a nap. Right now.

      • Please give me some free choice! I’d choose nap every time. Maybe every fifth time I’d choose Costco, but only if I could nap on the way. Circle time is when they sit in a circle and listen to the teacher talk about the plan for the day.

      • Yeah, circle time could be useful on days when I decide to ignore my plan and go rogue and stare at Facebook and/or wedding things. But free choice nap time sounds awesome. Every fifth time, I might make cookies. Every third time. Yes. Every third time.

  2. Ooooh Sadie! It’s horrible to raise strong, confident, competent children. I hate it. Where’s the co-dependent parenting book? I want to raise my kids to need me until they are 43. I do have one bit of good news for you: boys are less quick to separate. And even when they do it is very temporary.

  3. The last line is perfect. And letting go is exactly that hard. I remember when Mike came home from dropping off Rhys at preschool and couldn’t believe she wanted to walk in by herself. I got to feel the pride without the stabs – that time. Great post.

  4. How exquisite that your child is so secure in knowing that she is loved that she can go in by herself and know that you or Jeff will be waiting when she returns. And how painful when they need us just a little less. I didn’t order this change, universe. What up.

  5. Oh, mama. It does hurt, right? We had a difficult transition to kindergarten but then suddenly Nathan could run into school by himself one day. I didn’t want the clingy mess of a kid screaming every morning, but this is making me sad too. It’s tough watching them grow.

  6. I remember a time, a little over ten years ago, when I put my daughter on the bus for the first time by herself. I sent my husband to follow it while I went in and wept. When he arrived at school he stood in the background and watched her walk down the hallway like she owned the place. She’s a confidant 16 year old now and is receiving college letters in the mail. And the weeping begins again.

  7. My daughter is only 8 months old and all those “lasts” are already killing me. This was beautiful and heartbreaking. Kudos to you for not stampeding up the stairs after her yelling “WAAIITTT!!!” I think I would have.

  8. When my kids were teenagers, I was at a meeting with one of those “get to know each other better” openings where we had to say what we were most proud of accomplishing in our lives so far, and I said that the best thing I had done was also the bane of my existence – raising three kids to think for themselves.

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