My youngest son started Kindergarten this year. Kindergarten is the start of many new things, but one significant thing in particular is that Mom doesn't walk her "baby" to class any more.
I ease up the hill in the car and back down the other side to wait in line with a gazillion other parents who wait sometimes patiently, sometimes not. The boys like to go early so they can eat breakfast at school, mostly because of the chocolate milk they don't always get at home.
We sit in line, facing the sun and I watch the dispatching of various sized children in various styles of clothing. I like watching how the parents and grandparents send the kids off. Some drop off and drive away. Some open the doors and help the kids out. Sometimes there is hugging and kissing and sometimes not.
For the last two years I've dropped my oldest son off here and he doesn't want the hugging and kissing. He slides out of the car and trudges off, never looking back even though I wave vigorously out the window like I'm a tourist heading off on an exciting cruise vacation. My other son would yell from the back seat, "Bye Brubby!" And then we'd drive to his school building where he'd hang on to the back of my shirt until two teachers wrestle him down so I can make my escape.
But on this particular day, this first day of dropping him off it will be different. I don't know how it will be, but I know it will be different. I glance over my shoulder to see if he seems concerned or excited. He seems neither, merely interested.
"I'm just dropping you off today. You'll go up to the cafeteria with your brother. You okay with that?"
A flicker of worry crosses his face and he nods. He puts his head down and looks up at me from under his beautiful black lashes.
"You'll be fine," I remind him. "This is an exciting day!" I wonder for a second who I'm trying harder to convince, me or him.
Under my breath I say, "You'll take him up, right? You'll walk him in to the cafeteria and show him what to do? You'll stay with him until someone takes charge of him. You will, right?"
My oldest boy nods, not looking at me. "I will."
We sit in silence while the car rolls ahead a few feet as another car pulls away.
At the front finally, I ask, "Do you want to just get out or do you want a goodbye hug?"
"Will you hug me?"
"Of course, Sugar Face. How could I not hug you?"
I got out on the driver's side and he got out on the passenger's side. I thought about the long line of cars behind me and how they were waiting for me to move along so it would be their turn. I quickly dashed around the front of the car, but my youngest had already moved around the back to the other side. I turned and ran the other way thinking how ridiculous it now seemed to be chasing this child around the car for a hug. I imagined foot-tapping and sighing.
When we finally met up on the other side of the car I wrapped my arms around him, half of his mass a too-big backpack that crinkled noisily as I squeezed him to me. I straightened and smoothed his hair, my hands moving down to cup his cheeks. "I love you and I want you to have a GREAT day, okay?"
I thought of the cars waiting. Waiting. I smiled and decided I didn't care how long they waited. I bent down to kiss his cheek and he kissed mine, pressing hard into my face. He smiled and turned to walk with his big brother up the stairs and I turned to smile at the car behind me by way of polite apology.
Across the way a man sat in his truck with his son. He had a certain look on his face, the look I imagine I have when I watch something beautiful or moving, a sweet parent and child. His face was serene and he had a soft smile. Our eyes met and he nodded. I smiled and nodded back. His look said, "Take all the time you need because what you're doing is the most important thing you'll do all day."
And, as it turns out, it was.