When you’re pregnant, to say you dream about your baby is an understatement. You practically live in your imagination. Who will he be? Who will he grow to be? You try to imagine what he will look like, wondering at the possibilities. I have looked upon the faces of my newborns with curiosity and surprise, wonder and delight, complete adoration. But with Little Bear there was recognition, a deep sense of belonging, like we had met before. I looked down into his little swollen face and I thought of course, of course this is what he looks like. There is one picture of this moment. The rest were taken hours later, when the visitors arrived and the mess was cleaned up. Unprepared, we had only one camera phone and we’d left the charger in the car. I treasure this photo, our introduction, Little Bear and me.
We toyed with the idea of putting him into preschool this time last year. He would be three. His siblings had all started preschool at this age, we reasoned, but we knew. “He’s not ready,” I said. They had all marched confidently into their new classrooms, eager, excited. I worried he’d be anxious, that we’d have issues with separation, that he may actually be the kid who wouldn’t stop crying. Anyways, he wasn’t potty trained. And then there was his speech. Maybe it was time to look into that. It wouldn’t do him any harm to stay home for another year.
I was right. We dealt with the separation anxiety gradually, pushing gently. We enrolled him in a preschool prep program for kids with developmental delays. We discovered he was a little behind with his gross motor skills as well as his speech and began taking him to therapy once a week. At first it was hard. I’d sit for hours in the waiting room when I could have left. He would never have known. But I’d said I would wait. And this kid knows, on the deepest level, that I won’t let him down. Every single day that responsibility terrifies me. I tell my husband ‘if anything ever happens to me, you tell him, you make sure he knows how much…’ and I can’t quite say it. He laughs, but promises he will.
We spent the year playing and working. There were hours upon hours of open gym time and art classes, park time and gymnastics. I set up our house to be more Montessori friendly and encouraged birthday and Christmas gifts that would help him catch up to his peers. I filled our house with physical therapy props, I stooped over behind him, physically placing his feet on the correct stairs in the grocery store, at Granny’s house. ‘Step here first buddy, then the other foot here”. I waited, I rephrased, I engaged, and soon the words came, and then the confidence. We don’t have it all quite right yet of course, but he is ready.
Granny bought him a little lunchbox with a hedgehog and a water bottle to match. I chose his new school clothes online and we tried them all on when the package arrived. Star pants and rocket ship t shirts. and pumpkin pajamas. Because its just never too early for fall guys, it’s just not. We packed his little shoe box, a few extra outfits in case of accidents, a hand towel, a napkin, and a little turtle napkin ring. He attended orientation with his big sister by his side, and he hugged his new teachers. Yes, he is ready.
I don’t know if he is my last, but he might be. I have had a child in diapers for the better part of fourteen years. I had my first child when I was still trying to figure out my own identity, and I became the best mother I could be when I fully embraced motherhood as that identity. The thing is, I love this. Like, really. I can’t imagine that there is anything that comes after this that can even touch it. People talk to me about this being my “time for me.” I buy books encouraging me to set goals for myself, but hold on a minute. Maybe I just want to sit here in this space, to feel it all slipping away, acknowledge the loss. I will hand him over to his new teachers tomorrow with a smile, a kiss and some encouraging words knowing I will get into my car and sob uncontrollably. And yes, I know it’s only preschool, but I’m not ready.