Probably when you forget your youngest at his first day of kindergarten.
I mean, honestly, who does this? I will set the scene for you. He is this sweet-faced cherub embarking on his first day in the big harsh world of elementary school. When asked about how he felt about going to school, the only word he used to so articulately describe his impending experience was “nervous.” His white-blond hair, light blue eyes, and cherry peaked cheeks are only outmatched by his kind and loving demeanor.
When you dropped him off, he quietly sat down and diligently took to coloring a picture of a birthday cake that his new teacher had picked out since it was also, coincidentally, her birthday. Your oldest was adept at throwing monstrous fits demonstrating the depth of his separation anxiety that would leave you feeling wholly inadequate as a parent. But not your youngest. He was quiet and unassuming. Loving and accepting.
And so how do you repay this welcome reprieve from the harsh realities of parenting two spirited little boys? By losing track of time through the myriad of details that you were attempting to manage. Too many details, in fact. Just too much and something had to give.
Now, we will look back on this day and laugh. I mean, we kind of are laughing already. Today, it is a dry, sardonic laugh with hot tears mixed in but years from now it will be a hearty, nostalgic, belly laugh where we reflect on how your youngest was always safe out there in the world. How others were always there to help him even when his own parents couldn’t be counted on.
But this brings us back to our original question. When it comes to change and the inevitable anxiety or excitement that change brings- how do we know when too much is just too much?
Scientists have studied how the brain responds to what we may consider excitement versus anxiety and, as it turns out, the only real difference lies in how we feel about the energy. So, with a lot of change comes a lot of excitement or anxiety depending on how you perceive the change. Are you looking forward to it? EXCITING! Are you dreading it? ANXIETY! In this way, the change is neither inherently good nor bad. It is just change.
My 5 year-old started kindergarten the same week that my 9 year-old started theater camp. Both required different pick up times. This was also the same week that my lifelong friend was visiting from out of town. This same week, my husband was unexpectedly home from a work trip while we only had one vehicle. All while I am managing my new private practice out of a home office. EXCITING! But… too much! I didn’t feel anxious. I felt happy. Maybe a little overwhelmed when I look back at it now, but I wouldn’t have traded any of it because I was so happy about all of it. Right up until the point that the police were being called with a description of what my son was wearing which I had just provided to the principal after no one could find my 5 year-old at school. I had arrived 20 minutes past pick up time and the teacher had sworn that he was picked up by a parent. Problem was that his dad was riding his bike home from work (remember we only had one vehicle for the week) and there I was… without my baby.
I kept it cool for a long time knowing that, logically, he had to be close and that the chances of him being nabbed from school grounds were next to nil. However, as the minutes ticked by panic, tears, inadequacy, guilt, fear, and stress all found a quick home in my heart.
And finally… relief… as my child was found. He was crying and scared but he was safe. I was crying too but grateful. And maybe in the end, we have both learned some valuable lessons. For one, if you think you saw mommy but it turns out that it wasn’t mommy, then go back to your teacher or the front office. And two… which is maybe the most important… Sometimes too much is just too much. And that’s ok… but then we need to refocus on what really matters.
Hug and love on each other until the tears stop and we feel better. Forgive yourself because the alternative takes all of the precious energy you need away from building the path ahead and leaves it on fighting the past that already was.
And while your forgive yourself- over and over again- because this is not a final destination but rather a continual lifelong journey- take comfort in knowing that many of us have been there before and we will likely end up there again someday. I had so many parents reach out to me and tell me that they had had similar experiences. As it turns out, it may just be one of those parenting rites of passage. Haven’t lost your kiddo yet? Be patient. Your number may be called next.
Happy first day of kindergarten, my love. May you always be surrounded by others who care for and love you knowing that your mommy and daddy love you more than anything but that we also make mistakes sometimes.
Happy birthday, new kindergarten teacher. May you know that you are accepted and loved by our family, even though we may have gotten off to a rough start.
Here is to a happy, safe, and successful school year!