I arrived to pick my oldest son up from preschool today just after he slipped off a rain-slicked portion of the play structure. He hadn’t seen me yet. I saw his face contort into a wide, pained smile, trying so obviously not to cry, to shrug it off. When he saw me, he abandoned his efforts and dissolved into tears.
It broke my heart. It’s always hard to see your child cry, but this was different. What a big boy thing to do, to try to hide your feelings. When did this start?
I have been thinking about these big boy transitions because today was also my son’s fifth birthday. This one, more than any birthday so far, has seemed big. Five years old. This year he will reach so many milestones that will reinforce his independence. He will start Kindergarten. He will learn to read, to ride a bike. He will make new friends and lose old friends. He will have new jokes, new thoughts, new challenges, new disappointments. And so much of it will happen without me.
I know this is as it should be. I don’t want my son to be tethered to my apron strings. We have spent the last five years nurturing this little person so that he can confront challenges independently. And we will spend many more years continuing to do so. But I will miss these times when he can show me that he is sad and I can so easily fix it. It is easy enough to put a Band-Aid and a kiss on a scraped knee. It is harder to help mend a broken heart. And, as he gets older, he may not even want my help.
Today, at least, I was glad I was there. I was glad he was able to express his sadness and his bravery as he said to me through tears “I wanted to laugh.” I was glad that with a hug he was ready to try again. And I am glad that we have raised this amazing five-year old, who is sensitive and brave, thoughtful and silly, who is starting to develop the skills he needs to conquer the world without us.
But it still makes me sad.