When I was seven, my mom led me into the classroom in my new school. In a new country. I sat down at the desk assigned to me, next to a boy who is my friend to this very day. My knowledge of English was limited to “hello,” so I said it to him, almost in slow motion, with a heavy Russian accent. “Toilet” was the other word I knew, and even though I had to pee, I decided to save it for later.
It was a dark, cloudy September day, the classroom was in the basement, our desks a worn pistachio green, the light yellow, electric. Pine trees outside swayed to the early autumn tune of the breeze.
I wasn’t scared.
My mom was. She stood outside the old door, staring into its little window. She left when she saw my “hello,” knowing it was her cue, leaving me to figure out my new world on my own, even though all she wanted to do was stay and help me.
Now, it’s my turn.
I know I’m not alone, I see other moms of young kids who just either “graduated” nursery or kindergarten, panicking about how in a couple of months their munchkins will find themselves outside their comfort zone in a new school, a new classroom, surrounded by people they don’t know, just when they’d finally fallen into the comfort of their happy place. My son’s little school closed its doors today, forever. Stricken by the financial crisis, they opted to retire. Two years ago, I had walked into this place, my second stop in what I thought would be an endless road of research, and knew that it was it. It was the place where my barely two-and-a-half year old would never wear a diaper again, where he’d meet his first best friend, where he’d have his first fight, heartbreak, glorious laugh, where he’d learn his first letters and numbers, where he’d spell the “S” in his name backwards with a red marker over and over again on both sides of a piece of paper. It was the place that became the center of my daily social life, because come on people, we all know that moms of young kids can’t make it outside their homes past nine o’clock, especially on school nights. It’s was the place that I learned to trust strangers, to listen to them praise or criticize my son, it was the place that embraced him every morning for two years. It was his happy place, mine too, our safe place.
The thought of him getting off a bus and walking into a school ten times the size, terrified me at first. I almost started googling articles about how to help your kid deal with the change. But I didn’t. Because I don’t have to. None of us have to. They’re kids, they’re resilient, they adapt. I was the only one in the car crying today, as we drove away for the last time. He was laughing, bouncing his red balloon on the closed window and asking for ice cream. He’s not afraid of going to his new big school. I was. And if I made it through the day with a “hello,” anyone in his place can make it with a “hi.” He’s only four. It’s just the beginning. There will be more happy places.
“Mommy, why are you crying?” he asks, giving the balloon a hug.
“I’m excited,” I reply.