The scariest thing about kindergarten

It may sound odd that I think of my kindergartner as an adult, but I’m told I’m not the only one who pictured his college graduation when we were snapping the obligatory “first day of school” pictures.

There are so many grown-up things he does now. He checks books out of a library and has to memorize a five-digit number to order lunch. He wakes up and dresses himself every morning, including putting on a belt and (sort of) combing his hair.

I drop him off in the mornings, and he opens his own car door, steps out, pulls on his book bag, blows me a kiss and marches through the doors. He knows exactly where to go and walks through the hallways with other “big kids.”

It wasn’t so long ago that I had to hold his hand everywhere. I had to dress him, I had to check books out of the library for him. So many moments over the past few weeks, I have had tears in my eyes, wondering where the time has gone and wishing for my child to stop growing so quickly.

One day recently, he came home from school to tell me that his class had to practice tornado and fire drills.

“Mom, we had to leave the building for the fire drill and cover our heads for the tornado drill,” he said. I grinned as I pictured my little man doing as he was told like a responsible little adult.

“And then, Mom, we did the stranger drill. The girls went into the bathroom and the boys went into the office, and we turned off all the lights, and then we had to be as quiet as can be and hide until the principal said the stranger was gone.”

Silence.

I couldn’t speak for a few moments. It hadn’t occurred to me that my grown-up child could come face-to-face with such a grown-up problem.

I know the drill is a necessity, and I’m glad the school does it. I’m also glad that for the kindergartners’ sakes, they don’t call it what the rest of us would – an “active shooter” drill or a “take-your-mother’s-breath-away” drill.

My son talked about the drill in the way that a 5-year-old would. He talked about it the way he talks about filling out a worksheet or what he had at snack time that day. To him, it’s just another thing he does and it is no big deal.

To me, it’s a punch in the gut.

My son doesn’t know the stories. He hasn’t watched these scenes unfold on TV. His heart hasn’t broken for all those families. In that way, he is very much still a child.

But, in so many other ways, he is becoming an adult.

For so long, I was sad that my son was growing up because it meant he would no longer be my little baby. But this drill reminds me that in addition to my sadness, there’s also fear. A terrifying, gripping fear that he is there and I’m here and he will have to deal with grown-up situations on his own, without me, without my hand to hold or my voice to soothe.

For so long, I thought it was my job to just keep my kids alive, more or less. Make sure they are fed, make sure they sleep on their backs, make sure they don’t fall, make sure they are buckled into the car seat correctly, make sure there are no fire hazards. But this drill reminds me that my job is so much more. I have to give my son the skills to survive on his own, to face fears, to do what’s right, to be brave, to be strong.

In short, I don’t have the luxury of wishing my child would stay my baby forever. I have to let him grow into an adult. I have to prepare him for the real world.

“Well, now you’ll know what to do,” I say when he finishes talking about the drill. I remind him to listen to his teachers and do what they say. I tell him I’m proud of him.

Then I tell myself that my 5-year-old is capable, he is trustworthy and he is resilient. He is growing up, and I’m going to help him do it.

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