My oldest son began Kindergarten this week, and as my mama friends and I anticipated this important day, many of them talked about how they knew they’d find themselves teary-eyed as they watched their little ones enter the new world of Elementary School. I, however, knew that I would not cry on that first day—Lucca would do enough crying for the both of us. He has always been someone who’s very cautious about change, not comfortable with new people or new expectations. He likes to observe for a long time before trying something new, and he has a hard time with goodbyes. He often begs me to stay when I leave for work three days a week, and he cried every morning of this summer’s week-long day camp. He’s fine once the parting is behind him, but a mess while it’s happening; this is who he is and who he’s always been.
For years, I’ve tried to exhibit calm and confidence during our goodbyes. It has been my job to encourage him, and to reassure him of my knowledge that, after our parting, he would absolutely enjoy himself, and later, be glad he came. The last thing he needs when he’s breaking down is for me to be crying right along with him, and besides that, I genuinely haven’t felt the tears within me. In their place has reigned concern for this young boy who seems to have a harder time than his peers in this regard, and a deep desire for him to suffer less within transitions. I haven’t had to hold any tears back; instead, at each parting, I’ve felt a mix of private dread concerning what’s about to unfold, and sheer hope that perhaps this time he won’t go through the drama of whining, pleading, crying, and wrapping himself around me like a tiny octopus.
The morning of Day One of Kindergarten begins with some expected nervous whining and some adorable First Day pictures which reassure me that there must also be excitement in there somewhere, in addition to all his fears. We take the short drive to this new school, and the crying begins as we get out of the car and head into this relatively foreign building. It continues as we mill through the hoards of excited children of all ages, their parents, and their new teachers. It increases as I hug and kiss him and leave him in the care of his own teacher, whom we had met for the first time briefly the day before. I myself certainly feel sad that he’s having a hard time, but not at all surprised, and not at all worried for him in this meticulously chosen and truly wonderful school. So wonderful in fact, that the teacher unexpectedly texts me a reassuring note fifteen minutes later, complete with a photo of Lucca climbing on the playground with his neighbor and friend, Eliza.
At three o’clock sharp, when I pick him up, he seemed slightly tired but mostly really good—he tells me that they got to go to the playground three times, that he loves his new friend Mason, that he drew with awesome twistable crayons, and that school is like a big play date. I tell myself that while the drop-offs will certainly be terribly hard for at least a few more days, at least the pick-ups will be reassuring.
Day Two begins with the same whining: it’s always amazing to me–and sometimes pretty frustrating–how Lucca seems to have amnesia about all the fun times he recently enjoyed once another goodbye is at hand. Driving to the school, I work hard to mask my nerves at the fact that beginning on this day, we’ll be doing “car drop-off.” A teacher—not necessarily his own—will greet us, open his door, help him out, and take him into school. I have visions of his white knuckles grabbing the bars of the head-rest in front of him as they pull him with all their might out of our station wagon. While I’m relieved that the goodbye will be shorter (rip that Band-Aid off!), I genuinely hope that this teacher is mentally prepared, and physically strong. This could really be a scene. I vow to stay calm.
As we approach, I remind Lucca of this drop-off procedure for the third time in twenty-four hours, and tell him cheerfully how much better it will be. He is visibly nervous, and questioning me in barely audible fragments of words as his eyes stay fixed on the helpers on the curb. My stomach twists into a knot as we pull up, and through the open passenger window I try to prepare the teacher in Grown-up Code that this is our first time and may not go so well. The warm teacher takes in my words, nods, and shifts to Lucca. She opens his door, excitedly greets him (surprisingly to me, by name), reminds him of the moments they shared yesterday on the playground, and unbuckles him. She continues her kind smiling and her cheerful talking—almost magical in my memory of it now—as she helps him out, takes his hand, and says “Bye, Mom!” with a secret thumbs-up tossed my way. My car door has closed, and my son, engulfed by his new R2-D2 backpack, walks hesitantly but hand-in-hand with this guide, along the school sidewalk towards the doors at the far end of the building. There is a huge line of cars behind me and I know I have to drive away from this scene, but am transfixed on his brave little body as a tingling overwhelms my nose. I pull slowly forward but am surprised to find that my right foot won’t let me leave the parking lot and my two hands turn the wheel to the left where I can briefly park to watch this scene unfold to it’s completion. My neck is craned, my face pressing against the glass as I watch him get closer to the door with his new teacher friend. My throat is swelling up with a strong blockage. I roll down the window to continue watching, and by now, my eyes are flooded and my lips quivering. I can barely believe it. All of a sudden I want to slow down time—this is all happening much too fast. I watch, transfixed, as this nervous but courageous five-year old reaches the doors, and then, before my eyes, it seems to me that this giant brick building has just swallowed up my little boy.
A moment passes as I sit, stunned. There is nothing else to do now but put the car in drive and go. As I drive, I begin to cry. I cry all the way home, and am instantly more connected to the other mothers who were misty-eyed yesterday and confessing their private sobs the night before that. I had of course always understood it in my head, but now my heart enters their territory as well. He is not crying, and now I am. He is not needing me. He is growing up, which means that he is, in many ways, slowly growing away from me. For the first time, he will spend more hours with his teachers than with myself. This will be true now for five days a week until he leaves my home as a young man in a dozen years. I am swirling with a complex mix of grief, pride, relief, worry, and awe. At some point, I remember that I am also mother to a very sweet two-year old boy who sits behind me in the car, asking “Why you crying, Mama?” and I’m snapped into the present moment once again. I pull into my driveway, park the car, take a long, deep, diaphragmatic breath in through my nose, and let out an utterly loaded sigh out through my mouth. “Aparigraha,” I whisper to myself. The sanskrit word for non-grasping, releasing. “Aparigraha, aparigraha, aparigraha…” comforting to me in some very old way now, this ancient word whose meanings I have studied for a decade or so, but whose new depths have just dropped open to me in a ten-minute blur of time. If ever there have been moments in my Yogic studies of doubting whether or not they would serve me deeply, I know right now that the answer is deeper than the word Yes. As heart-wrenching as the practice will be, I understand clearly in this moment what it is I’m being called to do. I have a whole framework at my disposal, rich with texts and fellow Yogis. I have read about, meditated on, and practiced this non-grasping in smaller ways—this ability to move through life with open hands: hands that give, hug, work, caress, and feed. Hands that receive, too, certainly, but hands that do not grasp. I accept that this is my work. A new level of it.
I shake my head quickly, eyebrows raised up, and exhale again, a lighter sigh, releasing any remaining energetic tendrils of sorrow. I tell my toddler “I’m just loving Lucca…” and I unbuckle myself, walk around the car, and open his door. I unbuckle him as well–a curlier-headed, smaller version of Lucca–and I pick him up and hug him tightly, squishing my long cheek against his soft and pudgy one. But instead of sensing that I am holding him, or pressing him to me, I work to actively sense that I am instead connecting our chests while I pour love from my heart, the Anahata Chakra, right into his. I have a flash of a vision that he is receiving, and enjoying, but also that my energy is flowing right through him, as though he inherently already knows aparigraha. I take his cue, close my eyes, and try to send his energy through me as well, rather than to cling to or hoard it. We hug, as separate but permeable living beings, his small body still, and his tiny hand patting my back. We stand like this for a beautiful moment, and then the work of aparigraha continues as he pulls his little head from mine, fully complete with our connection. I look into his eyes, smile, and carry him into our home.