It all started last Thursday.
Last Thursday was my little man’s last day of preschool, the same preschool he’s attended for the last three years of his life. At drop off he crawled around the play equipment, meowing and pretending to be a kitty. But when I looked at him I didn’t see a kitty.
I saw my baby, physically latched to my body, my milk sustaining him. I saw my toddler, doing his shuffle walk, saying ‘one more!’ after doing something he liked. I saw my kindergartner, waving me goodbye as he started his next chapter. I saw my preteen, not allowing me to kiss him in front of his friends. I saw my early driver, rolling his eyes as I reminded him about safety. I saw my teenager, taking his first girlfriend on a date. I saw my college student, leaving the safety of my home to study his interests. I saw my young man, leaving me to marry the woman who would be his partner for the remainder of his life.
His whole life, or at least the first 30 years of it, flashed across my eyes that day and I couldn’t stop crying. I’m not usually a crier, but there are two things that never fail to draw a tear: Those military reunion videos and milestone moments. And this was a very big milestone moment. I cried all day long. I drove to work and cried in my car for 10 minutes. Luckily I had a busy day to keep me distracted, but in the car between meetings with landlords and property managers, I just couldn’t turn off the water works.
That night we had back to school night. We met all the teachers and saw all the classrooms, but with three kids we were rushed. We had a fun family weekend camping at Worlds/Oceans of Fun, a lazy day on Monday, and then today. The first day of kindergarten.
Our family is unique in that our first born is not our oldest. Diva was nearly five when she joined our family. Last April, around Adoption Day, this hit me hard. I looked at Wiggles- then the same age as Diva was when she came home. I thought about how well I knew him. I thought about how I understood why he got upset, why he said the funny things he said, what made him tick. I thought about Diva joining our family at that same exact age and how I knew nothing about her at that time. At that time- when I only had a newborn and a 2 year old biologically-a 5 year old seemed so capable, so mature….but when Wiggles hit that age, I still considered him very much my baby.
Adopting kids older than your biological kids is called ‘out of birth order’ adoption and it is somewhat controversial in the adoption world- we had to fight for our right to be allowed to do this. At that time, I remember thinking it was so stupid it was controversial. But I totally understand now. It’s HARD, and there are countless times when I am wracked with guilt over how I handled a situation then vs. how I would handle it now, now that I have the knowledge and experience and gut instincts that come with having a biological child. The Husband and I are learning and growing as parents every day, and we for darn sure are better parents now than we were three or five years ago. But boy, have we made some mistakes along the way.
So, back to our firstborn not being our oldest. This is not my first time sending a kid to kindergarten. We did it three years ago with Diva. Back then, Diva had only joined our family four short months prior and English was still pretty raw. She was so fearful of everything. I remember, through a very significant language barrier, trying to explain to my precious barely-five-year old Diva about how she was going to get on a bus and go to school. And then on the first day, I put her on the bus and went to work. I had called the school and asked someone to keep a special eye on her, since this was a completely new experience and she was likely to be overwhelmed. But I didn’t go with her. I didn’t hold her hand. I didn’t on purpose neglect her; I just wasn’t that emotionally bonded with her yet and didn’t realize that other parents were likely making this a much bigger deal than I was. I honestly didn’t realize that other parents would be walking their babies to class. I didn’t look at her as a five-year-old baby; I looked at her as my big five-year-old, ready to take on the world. Now, having the experience of having a biological child go through the same experience, I cringe with regret.
Now back to today. Wiggles snuck into our bed in the middle of the night last night, which happens more often than I care to admit. Last night he instructed me to pack him a PBJ in his lunch; but we were out of peanut butter. When I woke him up this morning and informed him that I had to alter his lunch, I instantly became the worst mommy ever. I ruined his first day. He wasn’t going to school or even getting out of bed. Kindergarten was not off to a good start.
Of course, he did get out of bed, and he did go to school, but he continued his peanut butter protest in the only way he knew how: he refused to cooperate for pictures.
Luckily Sassypants volunteered for his place, and the pictures will show a very honest depiction of our typical day.
Today we didn’t just stick him on the bus and hope for the best- of course, we drove him to school and we walked him into his classroom. He settled right in, eager to put his things in his locker, open his new pencil box, and meet his new friends. We left, and I cried, but not as much as Thursday (honestly, I felt like ‘he’s your problem now!’….so his bad attitude this morning at least helped me cope through the day).
Thankfully, he managed through the lack of PB&J and came home a happy kid. He was in good spirits all night, and excited to tell us all about his day….but ready for bed an hour earlier than usual. All that learning is hard work!
So, it’s a new chapter for the our family. We have three kids in elementary school and zero kids in diapers. It feels surreal. I never thought we’d get here! It feels sad, but also happy. It feels like a time for reflection; a time to remind myself that no matter how ‘old’ my oldest kids seem, they’re still babies and I shouldn’t expect too much from them. In general I’m a high expectation setter, but my job as a parent, and especially as an adoptive parent, is to set my kids on a path to success by meeting them where they’re at and helping them find an appropriate path for them. Smiles was 8 when he joined our family; he’s always been a ‘big kid’. Next year he’ll go to middle school, which seems so old! But I’ve learned that although it feels so old now, I know it won’t a few years later when Wiggles gets to that point. I know I’ll still look at 12-year-old Wiggles as my baby- so I’m learning to look at Smiles and Diva that way too- because that’s exactly how they deserve to be looked at. Every kid, no matter the age, should be someone’s baby, and I think adoptive parents (ie myself) do a disservice when they fail to do this. Adoption ain’t easy, and God is using it to teach me lessons every day.
We survived kindergarten. Wiggles is growing up, but he’s so smart and so ready for this. He’s my little buddy and I love hanging out with him; he’s no doubt one of my favorite people to have conversations with. At age five he’s a deeper thinker than most of the adult population. No doubt he’s got this- now if only I do.