My heart is in his hand
By Susy Schultz
I have a visceral reaction to September. I feel the small hand in mine. Sometimes all it takes is walking past the elementary school.
The warmth. The smallness. The future.
One my greatest pleasures and pains as a parent is the walk on the first day of school.
Even if the morning was crazy, when you step onto the porch, the world pauses and breathes.
We would take hands, look each other in the eye and take the first of the eight steps down the front porch.
"I'm right here with you. Isn't this exciting?"
In the early years, our hands stayed together all the way to school-all 447 steps to the playground door where the younger children are let in.
Our hands fit. His hand felt warm. And occasionally, when the hold would break because a bug on the sidewalk was too tempting, our hands found their way back together naturally.
When we arrived at the school, wading through the sea of children, I loved how the grip tightened. I loved being asked to stay in line with our hands together.
Many years, I walked through the door with our hands parting only after the boy was settled in the class.
In the later years, our hands would start together down the eight front steps. But just as quickly, they would break. "Mom, I just want to get there right away. Everyone will be there."
"That's fine. I'm right here, behind you."
Sometimes the boy would run away. Sometimes the boy would jump on his scooter and ride away. One year, he flipped the wheels down on his sneakers and rolled away.
I always followed, all 447 steps.
I could see the backpack, freshly packed with a ruler, washable markers, colored pencils, a pencil case, six no. 2 pencils and a new eraser. There would be a square outline of the large box of Kleenex.
I was always thinking: Will he fit in well? Will he like the teacher? Will he be happy? Will he be organized? Will he be safe? Did they really mean Crayola markers? Will the generic do? Do I have to sell wrapping paper again this year?
And when I arrived at the school, the boy's hand was waiting for me. "Mom, come here. This is my line. Come meet my teacher."
The hands were not together as much.
Now, the hands waved at the door.
"'Bye, Mom. Can I have a play date after school?"
I lingered on the playground with other parents.
Each of us smiling. Outside, the picture of control. But inside, I was having my own parental moments filled with quiet internal tumult.
When they were younger, I would be talking about summer vacation outside, but inside my exhausted self was saying, "I can't believe we made it, he's in school now. Wait a minute. HE'S IN SCHOOL NOW."
When they were older, there was a sense you accept the inevitable.
Outside, you commiserated with other parents, "I can't believe we got him to school. It's so crazy. It's never easy for me that first day."
Inside, I thought, "He looked so old walking through the door. Wasn't he just a baby? It's never easy for me that first day."
But we do, as always, what we must as parents. We "model positive behavior" for our children. Remember that passage in the job description?
We smile as we walk them to school. We support them. We tell them what we really believe, that it looks to be a great year.
The older children's parents joke with the kindergartners' parents, who look a bit dazed. Some even misty-eyed.
Nobody is allowed a full-out sob.
And after kindergarten, it is not even as acceptable to be misty-eyed at the school door.
After all, we know the drill. We give birth, they grow. There will be joy, there will be pain. What did you expect?
So, we chat.
I would wait to cry during the walk home-all 447 steps. Because when I noticed my hand was empty, my heart flooded with hopes and fears for the boy.
When my hand was empty, my head filled with too many what-if's.
"Mom," he said in the doorway. "I don't need you to walk me to school anymore. I can do it myself. It looks bad. I'm not a baby.
"I love you. 'Bye."
"‘Bye honey. I'm right here."
I followed-all 447 steps. Just to make sure.
As they learn to walk, we learn to walk beside them, behind them, and then, without them.
Nobody told me how hard that would be.
Really, there are many things as a parent I do, but few things I know.
I never know if I'm doing a good job. I don't know if I can keep them happy and healthy. I don't know if I can protect them from the potential dangers they face every day of their life.
But I do know it's 447 steps from the bottom of my eight front porch steps to the playground door behind the school.
And I know that even if I can't catch it, my boy's hand feels warm in mine.
And I also know I will be there, walking behind him no matter how many steps he is ahead.