What is it about first days that make parents so emotional? I think I figured it out yesterday. It’s the look. The look your child gives you as they walk off into the unknown that says “Mom? Are you sure this is ok? You’re sure I’ll be ok?” and there you are, forcing yourself to nod and smile and be brave, just like they’re doing. And then you have to just drive away – literally leaving them there to just figure shit out on their own. I mean, what? No. That’s crazy. But we all do it. They survive and so do we.
Yesterday was Belle’s first day of camp. We had the expected jitters, the predictable “I don’t want to go’s.” And I was ready for all of it. I had the special rock tucked into the secret pocket in her backpack. I even got up early to finish a friendship bracelet for her to wear that was specially made-by-mom – a little token to remind her that I’m always with her even when I’m not there in person. We talked about the magic of a smile and how her smile could even turn someone else’s day around if they were feeling nervous or missing their own mom.
And then the anxiety set in – for both of us. Yes, I’d researched the hell out of this camp. Yes, I was confident she was in good hands. Yes, I was certain it would be good for her and she’d have so much fun. But then my mind started reminding me of all the No’s and the What If’s. I actually had no idea who these people were that I was handing her off to. I’d met three people in the whole camp. THREE PEOPLE. What if she had to pee and didn’t know where the bathroom was or couldn’t remember who she was supposed to ask? What if she didn’t have anyone to sit next to her at lunch? What if someone said something mean to her? What if someone said something that scared her and I wasn’t there to explain what they meant? What if she was just feeling unsure or missing on her momma and just needed a hug? What if she was mad at me for not being there when she needed me?
Those what if’s will send any mom into a spiral of emotions. I know I can’t protect her from everything. And I know I shouldn’t want to either. I know these are crucial experiences that she has to have on her own in order to grow into a self sufficient, competent human who is capable of handling adversity and challenges and life in general.
I get all that.
The rational, educated, wise portion of my brain gets all that. I know she’ll be fine and I’ll be fine. But somehow, knowing and getting all of that does very little in the moment of the drop-off. None of that comforts either of you on the first day of anything new. Even after toddler school drop-off and pre-k drop-off – I wasn’t expecting camp drop-off to even phase me. (Partially because we’ve done this before. We foolishly tried to send her to camp only one week after Rosie was born when she wasn’t even three years old yet. It was a disaster to say the least and my husband is forever damaged from the horror of it all. ) I thought since we’d been down this drop-off road so many times before, somehow this time would be easier.
But instead I learned this: every time you leave your baby somewhere new, it’s the first time all over again. It’s a whole new can of trust you have to open and that’s the very scariest thing for a parent. Because it’s blind trust. You have to just have faith that the people in charge will care for you baby as well as you would and that concept in itself is insane.
But then, you get an email from her counselor that says she’s having the very best time and she hasn’t even noticed that you forgot to send her with her raincoat even though it’s pouring.
And then, after you’ve been checking the clock all day, it’s finally time to pick her up. She gets in the car and she looks like camp: sweaty face, paint in her hair, dirt on her clothes, mud on her shoes….and you ask her how her day was and the smile is just too big for her to even hold it in and she says “Mom, it was GREAT! You were right. I love camp!”
And all is right in the world.
So, to all the moms doing the first day drop-offs this week: you can do it. The first day drop-offs don’t get easier, but as these kiddos grow and can actually tell us about their day, it’s pretty darn cool to see just how OK they are without us – out there exploring the world, learning all the kid stuff they’re supposed to be learning. Doing the things, seeing the sights. It’s pretty darn cool and it makes all the first day jitters worth it. For both of you.