My six-year-old, Camille, started kindergarten this year. My husband took the morning off because he didn’t want to miss her monumental departure. He was feeling the same kind of emotional tug-of-war I was over this major milestone and I was glad for his tacit support.
On the first morning of school, Camille appeared in our kitchen decked out in her uniform. I noticed how tiny she looked in her navy blue jumper and burgundy blouse. I had bought her brand new Velcro black Stride Rites so I wouldn’t have to tie them in the morning chaos. Even though the shoes were the correct size, everything she was wearing—from the kicks to the threads—seemed too big for her.
Camille has a personality the size of California, but a chipmunk-sized body.
I didn’t cry when my oldest started school eight years ago and I didn’t cry when his three younger siblings walked out of my front door either. Camille’s flight into the forays of how to read books, handwriting, and counting, however, had me a blubbering mess.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked a good friend and fellow mother of six children after I’d dropped Camille off. “This is developmentally appropriate, I should be happy she’s in school! Shouldn’t I be happy?”
“She’s not like the other kids,” my wise friend counseled. “You’re crying because you know once she goes, she’s not looking back.”
Camille is the fifth of six children and she came out of the womb telling people what to do. She is not some wallflower type, threatened by the world and the people in it. She’s spent the first six years of her life bossing me around, so when she hopped out of my van a few weeks ago, I knew deep in my bones that this was a different kind of good-bye. This was the good-bye of an independent kid, a kid who needs me now but who will outgrow my help almost as quickly as she slams the van door closed behind her.
The realization had me weeping right there in the carpool line. For the first time, I had let go of a child who was ready to let go of me.
One of my favorite scripture passages is the one where Mother Mary and Joseph lose Jesus in the temple for three days. When I’ve had a lousy day of parenting, nothing consoles me more than the idea that Mary and Joseph couldn’t find the Son of God. It always puts my mess-ups—no matter how big or small—in perspective and I’m usually not so hard on myself.
Camille’s first day of school got me reflecting on this passage again because I experienced—on a much smaller scale—what Mother Mary must have felt when she finally discovered Jesus in the temple after looking for so long. Mary says to Jesus, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Her Son’s response lets Mary know she wasn’t necessarily at the top of his priority list even though she was a wreck about him.
“Why were you searching for me?” Jesus answered. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Mary, of course, didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but she kept all these things in her heart anyway.
The realization must have made her a little morose. Although she didn’t say it, maybe she thought, “Wait, it’s not time yet! You can’t leave me, I’m not ready!”
That morning as I watched Camille walk into the school building ready to tackle Kindergarten and the world, I felt united to the Mother of our Lord. I stood behind Camille as she went ahead of me and I knew that this wouldn’t be the last time I watched her walk away from me, and into something grand.
And as Our Lady felt a pang in her heart, I felt a pang in my heart too. Even if it’s part of God’s salvific plan for a child to separate from her mother, it still hurts.
I’m not ready yet, either.