My son started kindergarten two weeks ago.

Emotions? Yes, correct, emotions all over the place.

I was happy that he was going to meet some kids his own age in our new town.

I was sad because I kept picturing him in all those sports-themed hand-me-down onesies that we would never have bought ourselves but looked so sweet on that tiny little baby boy.

I was scared because part of me fears that the structure of public school will crush his spirit and turn him away from the enjoyment of learning.

The most surprising emotion? Relief.

Is relief even technically an emotion? I don’t know, but it sure feels like one.

As soon as we drove away and after I cried a little, I was suddenly overcome by a feeling of relief.

Relief that someone with patience thicker than mine was going to be directing him in activities throughout the day, relief that I would get a break from the sibling bickering, relief that I would get some more time to work and have some alone time … which then, of course, led to the guilt.

(Good ole Guilt. Our constant companion who, after you leave the hospital, slides in next to that brand spankin-new carseat you hoped was the right choice. Was it safe enough? Should you have spent the extra $25 on the Graco? You see? It turns out he’d hopped in the car before you even left for labor and delivery.)

It feels wrong to be relieved that my kid is no longer my constant tagalong. Sure, there are plenty of self-empowering-mom-voices out there saying, “Guilt? Are you kidding? You need YOU time! Yoga pants! Wine!”  But there are also the grieving-mom-voices saying “Hug your kids just a little closer. You may never get to hug them again.”

What am I supposed to do with that? Seriously?

Feel guilty, I guess.

Kindergarten has not been the emotional roller-coaster I anticipated; it’s been more of a small-town Ferris wheel. You get in at the bottom with your old pal, Guilt. He’s pretty quiet, because, let’s face it, even the top of a small Ferris wheel is exciting. Your adrenaline builds and builds and is finally rewarded with a momentarily surreal and beautiful view. Things are exciting and hopeful, especially if the wheel stops for a few minutes and you get an extra moment of lofty peace.

And then it starts going down. The excitement has been experienced and Guilt decides to open his mouth.

“You know, you really should homeschool. All he’s going to do is learn how to follow the man and memorize stuff. You’re knowingly sending him into a flawed system.” (Guilt has a super-long ponytail and listens to a lot of 60’s protest music, by the way.)

“What do you mean you don’t want to homeschool, even though you feel like you should? Sounds like you’re laaaaazy. Or you just can’t hack it.” (He also likes to taunt. Why do I hang out with this guy?)

We get back down and, it turns out, we’ve got a pass for unlimited rides on this Guilt Ferris Wheel, so we start to head up again. I’m inspired by the hope of reaching the top and join the conversation with:

“Okay, yeah, the system’s got flaws, but it’s full of incredible teachers with good hearts who do good work. My son’s school is wonderful and caring and safe.”

“When would I have time to work? Seriously, when? This isn’t a hobby, it’s an income.”

“He came home in good spirits on Friday and played ‘school’ all day on Sunday. Does that sound like something that is crushing his spirit?”

Guilt just nods thoughtfully, using the time at the top to formulate his next sentence:

“But what about all of the sitting? Don’t kids need…”

And it goes on. And it doesn’t stop, at least, it hasn’t yet, anyway.

This isn’t all a downer, though. Each time the wheel goes up, I think of something positive. Since he started school, my son has been raising his hand instead of interrupting us. It’s a little odd to see him raising his hand in a home-setting, but he’s respecting our conversation by letting us finish it, and we’re respecting what he has to say by listening to it when we’re done. It’s refreshing and encouraging.

There are more pros, and there are more cons. I have a feeling this Ferris wheel never gets unplugged, so I’m going to have to focus on the ride up in order to make it through the way down… and since I gave up gluten, I can’t bring a funnel cake. Well, I suppose I could just stuff it in Guilt’s mouth once we get to the top, right?

(Sorry if my metaphor kind of went off the rails there… I could just really go for some funnel cake… and a little less guilt.)

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Lauren Bonk

Lauren Bonk is a freelance copywriter out of Omaha who's been wrangling family life and words since 2010. She always shows up with a healthy dose of optimism, a mug of coffee in her hand, and a solid high five. (But not too solid, because coffee is hot and that would be painful.)