Learning to Let Go

As Susan Macciocca’s son begins school, both she and her son are learning to let go.

My son watches intently as his bike is transformed. He grabs the handlebars and strides with the bike to the footpath. His dad holds him by the shoulders to get him steady, and then gives him a gentle push. He wobbles down the path determinedly. No training wheels.

I watch him from the front gate, his wiry body pedalling away from me, his legs gaining speed as he finds his balance. Tears spill onto my cheeks. It is a physical pain, the drawing away of a child as they gain independence. I ache for the days when I held him comfortably in one arm and fed him from my breast. I don’t want to hold my son back. But each advancing step brings pain as well as pride. And I see from watching my friends around me that this doesn’t stop. One mother of young adults books a holiday house each year that will accommodate all her children, just in case they decide to join her. They rarely do. I remember my own mother sobbing at the airport when I headed overseas for the first time.

My son heads for the park on his transformed two-wheeler, accompanied by his dad. I wander into his room. Pieces of his new school uniform are strewn on the floor from this morning’s rehearsal for tomorrow: his first school day. The baggy shorts extend below his knees and the polo top swims on him. But he is so pleased with it. My husband smiled too. It was only me who saw him in the uniform and dissolved into tears: tears for him and for me because we will never again be together as mother and infant. I know that the days when I am at the centre of his life are finite. Maybe some tears are for my own childhood, for the days when just being is enough, and no-one expects more. Again I ponder whether or not he should do another year of kindergarten, telling myself he isn’t ready. Then I imagine his crumpled face if I were to tell him that he wasn’t going to school until next year. And I know it’s not him who isn’t ready.

A few moments later, he comes in, crying. He has come off his bike and grazed his knee. I hold him tightly on the couch and wipe away his tears. I am perversely glad for the moment.

Later, we take down his special box from the wardrobe, a shoebox that holds his first whorl of sandy-coloured hair, and his first battered shoes in which he took those early, faltering steps. We read cards from family and friends that welcomed him to the world. And I cradle a baby suit in which he looked like a little koala. Together we choose a couple of  kindergarten paintings from his bedroom wall to add to the box. We add the photo of his kindergarten group with his anxious smiling face in the front row. And we close the chapter of  kindergarten in his life.

On the morning of his first school day, he wakes early and climbs into our bed. He cuddles up close to me and I hold onto his small body, wishing for the moment to be frozen.

My husband takes him to school. I can’t trust myself to let go. The dread of this day has been brewing in my stomach for weeks. His neat squares of cheese sandwich and apricot slice must carry all my love for him on this day.

I fight back tears as I farewell him at our gate. He is unnaturally quiet, like a runner before a big race. I smooth down some wayward hair at his crown. He holds my leg tightly, and then releases me and hesitantly follows his dad down the street. I fret over how he will go, who he will play with. But of course he will be fine. Me? Well, I have a wobbly day; a day where my feet don’t feel sure on the ground. A day where I feel I have control of things, only to lose it.

Like the first ride without training wheels.

Illustration by Ben Sanders