How many times in a week can one mom cry as she drops her kids off at school?

That’s a fun math problem, isn’t it? One that I can solve a lot easier than my fifth grader’s common core math worksheets. You’ve had those weeks too, haven’t you? Last week, the answer to that math problem was two. Could have been worse. Has been worse.

There are so many reasons for mama tears during morning drop-off—the kids struggling with us leaving them, our struggles with being away from them (I travel extensively as a speaker, and have hyperventilated and even thrown up (excuse my transparency) in an airport parking lot once because I was so upset about leaving—but that’s a whole other post).

Our tears sometimes fall because our kids are having a bad day, or we’re having a bad day. How many times does a mom have to tell her 10-year-old that hangers and dirty clothes aren’t bathroom decor before she raises her voice? How many minutes can a mom wait before intervening to help her four-year-old who’s trying to button her coat while fighting back tears of frustration that I CAN DO IT ALL BY MYSELF!

Sometimes our tears come from knowing the difficulties our children face at school—bullying, learning problems, struggles with teachers or staff. I’ve cried all of those tears and then some, and I’m sure you have, too.

There’s something so vulnerable about letting our kids, even more vulnerable, walk through those school doors each day, knowing that we can’t help them with what they encounter. We can’t protect them from the teasing, the frustrating tasks, the difficult learning situations and worse.

It downright hurts some days to kiss them goodbye as they head out the car door or cross the threshold into the classroom.

But then . . . 

Some days you’re parked in the never-ending car-line slurping your second cup of cold coffee and you see it, as your fifth grader jumps out of the car to catch up to a classmate—a classmate who’s been more cold than warm to her over the years—who’s part of the “popular group”.

You hold back tears and bated breath because you can’t stand the sight of her being ignored.

You can hear the muffled sound of her calling out her classmate’s name. You cringe, waiting for the rebuff.

And then you see it. 

A smile!

A genuine, full-on, happy-to-see-you smile, beaming back at your daughter from her classmate.

And as you watch your beautiful girl beam back at her, your tears start to fall.

“Did I just see what I think I saw?” you wonder out loud. You fight back the urge to go fist bump your daughter for the successful exchange and awkwardly hug the other girl and instead wait anxiously for the other never-ending car-line at the end of the day to hear more about it. ‘Cause chances are good that you’ll hear all about it and then some at the end of school day from a tween, right?!

I made it from Tuesday to Friday last week before I cried again. High five to me! Because our children are equal opportunity tear inducers, this time, it was an experience with our 4-year-old daughter who brought on my waterworks.

Our Ava is shy. Acutely, painfully shy like my husband. Get to know her and you’ll need ear plugs and a good pain reliever to cope with the noise and energy flying at you at warp speed, but until then, be prepared for her to not look at you. Be prepared to strain to hear her whisper a response to you, if you get even that.

I worry about her. Not just because she’s so shy, but because she has complex medical issues that have impacted her life and will continue to do so. She looks like any typical 4-year-old girl with a mass of curly brown hair, big brown eyes, and an infectious grin, but some days, all I see are the holes in her heart that we’re praying close on their own. And I fret. Not only for her physical health, but her emotional and mental well-being.

I’ve laid awake more nights than I count, wondering what the future holds for her, worrying she will face the wrath of bullies or the barbed words of oh-so-honest children with no filters who ask frank questions and sense differences from a mile away. I wonder if she will make friends.

But then . . . 

Some days you’re stuffing the puffy marshmallow of a winter coat and way-too-large-for-a-preschooler backpack on the way-too-small coat hook, and you see it.

A smile!

From a mom of a fellow preschooler and the little boy, as they cram items into his cubby.

A genuine, full-on, happy-to-see you smile, beaming back at your daughter from the two of them.

And as you watch your beautiful girl beam back at them, you fight back the tears starting to fall.

“Did I just see what I think I saw?” you silently wonder. You fight back the urge to go fist bump your daughter for making eye contact with them and smiling and awkwardly hug the other mom and little boy, and instead wait anxiously for the other never-ending car-line at the middle of the day to hear more about it. ‘Cause chances are good with a 4-year-old that you’ll hear all about it and then some at the end of school day, right?!

As hard as it is to send our kids through those school doors each day, no matter how many tears of sadness, uncertainty, or fear that we shed for them, there’s always hope.

Hope for learning new things, achieving goals, overcoming obstacles, forming friendships.

To the classmates and mother who smiled at my daughters, I thank you. Your smiles not only made their days, but they made mine.

They give me hope.

And to all of you fellow mothers (and fathers) out there fighting back tears at drop-off, I see you. I feel you. You aren’t alone in your struggles.

And thankfully, you’re also not alone in your tears of joy. Today’s a new day for all of us—our kids included.

You never know what good things may happen today for your child. You never know what amazing achievements or situations you’ll be hearing about later.

And maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to see them unfolding right before your very eyes.

I guess that’s one good thing about there never-ending car-line. You get a chance to see hope unfolding.

You may also like: 

Dear God, Please Fill the Holes

Motherhood is a Series of Bittersweet Goodbyes

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Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden is a well-known Christian and Pro-Life Speaker. She is the author of the award-winning book, You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir. Melissa is a frequent guest on radio programs such as Focus on the Family, the BBC, and the Mike Huckabee show. Melissa’s a frequent contributor to sites including The Mighty, LifeNews, and Fox News. Melissa, her husband Ryan, and daughters Olivia and Ava reside in Kansas City, Missouri.