I felt a kind of courage on Roscoe’s first day of summer camp when his delight and anticipation for something yet unknown felt so much mine. We drove steadily across town with the windows open. The warm air blew through the backseat, and roared to the front where I watched him through the rear view mirror. He was a little quieter than usual, ruminating. “Mama, can you roll the windows up? I can’t hear!” When the air fell silent he spoke with thoughtful pauses and upward inflections to question if the other kids would be kind to him. He wondered out loud about whether his teacher would help him out of a bind if he needed her.
I assured him, with genuine enthusiasm (tempered by the hesitation I felt from the weight of my own looming questions), that he was going to meet buddies at school and that, with the help of his teacher, they would work together to take good care of each other.
But the truth is that I couldn’t promise that kids would be kind or that his teacher would be available to help him if he was in need of rescue. I couldn’t guarantee that my little guy, who had been home with me for his first four years would follow direction, get along in a crowd, or manage his emotions as I know he can, but often doesn’t.
I parked the car and helped him out of his seat. He positioned his back pack just so and as we walked to drop-off he trailed a step or two behind me. He perked up as I reminded him that I would be back in a few short hours and that the suspense would kill me until then: I couldn’t wait to hear all about his day.
It took some of my courage to pull his teacher aside and quickly relay to her a short few, and important, parts of my son that I thought she should know. It brought a lump to my throat the way she crooned back, “Ohhh, so this is a big day for you too?” Her tone was compassionate and knowing. Was it obvious? I felt a little silly, but told myself that she just had a good eye and a big heart for soothing yet another careful mother new to this whole thing. She briskly rubbed the back of my arm – firm and with confidence that everything was going to be great – it was just what I needed to gather up the rest of my courage to scurry off the playground after a few drawn out kisses passed from lips to cheek, and another blown from palm and caught midair. “Got it!” he shouted with a grin. And he was off.
The way the world seems so much bigger with every passing year, it highlights his smallness and amplifies my vulnerability as his mother. The feeling shoots straight to my heart and tightly grips all the fears and the what-ifs that characterize the world as unpredictable and far too big to release into it the best pieces of myself for fear of losing sight of them, or worse. It is an act of courage to send off our babies, at any age, into a world outside the protected spaces we keep.
In September we’ll do it all again as both my boys enter preschool for the first time. We are diligently at work collecting their supplies, selecting a few new pieces to add to their fall wardrobes, and preparing to shift the whole house into brand new routines and yet to be known adventures.
My boys give me courage that the world is kind and that together we will find our way safely in it.