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It started with a backpack.

Christmas morning his eyes grew wide and bright as he pulled this, his first backpack, from the gift box from his auntie. He shoved the trucks and Magna-Tiles I had so carefully waited to go on sale to purchase months before to make enough room to sling the backpack over his tiny shoulders. He marched around the room proudly, telling his older cousins that he was going to go to school just like them.

Seeing this little person wearing his Christmas best, sporting a backpack that suddenly made him look like a proper kid, brought tears to my eyes. He has worn it every day since, and every day he asks when he actually gets to wear it to school.

The answer that satisfies his two-year-old mind best is “after the summer”. It’s a timeline that is vague enough and also specific enough for him to understand. Because I’ve been able to be home with him, my husband and I decided to wait until he is three to enroll him in preschool. Once the backpack hit the scene, it was the gentle nudge we needed to actually start the preschool tour circuit.

After all, preschool shopping starts early in the Bay Area. I’m talking, some people have the wherewithal to put their names on waitlists when they get pregnant kind of early.

I’ve never managed to be that organized. I’m more of an organic and intuitive decision-maker (read: procrastinator). Even doing preschool tours nine months in advance felt excessive to me. But the Bay Area parenting can be a bit cutthroat, so no time like the present.

At the start of this preschool adventure, I didn’t really know what kind of school would be best for our boy. Through books, blogs and asking around, I’ve learned the lingo, the philosophies and various approaches from play-based to Waldorf to Montessori to forest schools to language-immersion.

Once I got a thorough picture of all the options out there, and I could select which schools to tour based on their philosophy (and let’s be real, price range), I also determined it had to line up with that feeling of magic. The click. In five preschool tours I hadn’t had that moment.

Not until today.

Today, from the moment I walked through the gate, I felt the thing. The beginnings of a sparkle. I saw the perfect balance of organized freedom, which is basically my whole parenting aesthetic. As the tour went on and I saw happy, smiling kids running from here to there, walls heavy with art, teachers engaged and nurturing, I teared up.

It’s not that I haven’t seen this at the other schools I’ve toured, but there was something different, something special about this one.

Suddenly I had visions of my kiddo running, playing, learning there. Thriving. My heart squeezed. I had found it. We signed the paperwork on the spot and I basically haven’t stopped crying since. It may not be happening until “after the summer” but this means there’s no more reading or prepping or thinking to do. We’ll just have to do it. And the doing it makes it real.

Until now, I’ve been able to deny that my son will actually need his little backpack for anything other than his toy cars and stuffed whale. He’s growing, so rapidly, so decidedly. It’s the exact thing that we want for our kids and yet, it’s a constant heartbreak for us mothers. Because as much as I want to raise this kid into a person all his own, that means he has to become less mine, and that’s the constant grief of motherhood.

By this time next year, he’ll be in school with a class and friends and daily activities that don’t involve or include me (appropriately!). I want that for him so deeply, but the reality of it, the actual handing him over to the next phase of personhood, is just a heart punch I didn’t see coming. I shouldn’t have worn mascara today.

Some days, I forget to be grateful for this parenting journey. I forget to stop and focus and enjoy the days that pass in blinks. Today, I am beyond grateful for this perspective shift, this reminder to slow down and savor. To be present.

To hold on until he’s ready to let go.

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Eva Des Lauriers

Eva is a writer, reader, toddler-chaser, patriarchy-smasher, and noted gabber. Before she pursued writing full-time, she was an MSW working with children and adolescents. She writes about motherhood, identity, books and more on her blog, Brimming. Her work has been featured on Motherly, XoJane, and ParentCo. 

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