In a few short hours, my tiny infant son, who only just yesterday, it seems, was barely able to crawl and talk and eat semi-solid food, will be headed to his first day of Kindergarten. As an extremely practical, reasonable human being, I have, of course, always known this day would be coming and currently know that, in the grand scheme of things, Kindergarten isn’t a world-altering big deal. His school is literally within throwing distance (okay, maybe throwing distance *before* shoulder surgery) of our house and at 3:25 every day, we can walk home together and he can tell me about the advanced math formulas and seven syllable words he mastered that day, and everything is going to be fine. He’s not going off to boarding school, although he did think Kindergarten was an “all-day-all-night” kind of thing until very recently. As an extremely emotional, possibly overly sensitive parent-and-best-buddy of an only child, I am an absolute mess and everything is definitely NOT going to be fine. He just seems so little, you guys.
When you have a baby (and by “have” I mean, “possess a small child for whom you have a legal responsibility” because, of course, Lindsey actually had the baby, though I was there for moral support and like…I don’t know, very meager coaching while attempting to not pass out?), everyone says stuff like, “Cherish it now, they grow up fast.” Literally everyone says this. And in that moment, sleep-deprived and hungry for some reason (?) and a little angry for no real reason other than the sleep deprivation and hunger, you’re like, “Yeah, sure, cool, can we hurry up and get through that, then, because I’m dying here and I’m looking forward to him just being able to talk to me like a real person so I can explain sleep to him.” And then suddenly he IS a real person capable of actual speech. And you’re like, “Whoa, that was quick, weren’t you pooping in a sack a few minutes ago?” And he’s all, “Get with the times, old man” as he hoverboards out of the room with his girlfriend!? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!
My point is, it turns out “literally everyone” is right: these stupid kids really do grow up fast. My favorite thing about parenting in the early years was holding Cooper against my chest while he dozed; now, he weighs a thousand pounds and when he tried to put his head on my chest last week, I felt like I’d been Zidane’d and my sternum will never be the same. I have this video of him when he was maybe five months old, just babbling (loudly) for several minutes; now he’s a better conversationalist than I am, and he has all of the words (okay, not ALL of the words, this isn’t a Ron Swanson with a typewriter situation, but you know what I mean). You see these things changing in real time, sure, but they’re incremental and you’re distracted by the day-to-day parenting stuff. And then one day, Facebook pops up a picture from the “On This Day…” feature and you can’t believe how tiny that kid looks or how long ago that moment really was.
Now he’s five and I have to turn him over to the state (it’s possible that I don’t understand how Kindergarten works any better than he does). Lindsey and I have always made it a priority to bring others into Cooper’s upbringing because we know how valuable his community of family and friends will be in his development and because we know we need help, that we need breaks. We left him with my mother-in-law at maybe seven days old so we could go have dinner with our friends; he’s been in pre-school four days a week since he was four months old; he has a sea of blood-and-non-blood-related aunts and uncles who look after him constantly. But Kindergarten is the first time he'll be in the daily care of someone I don’t know; when I won’t be able to just show up and take him simply because I had a couple hours before the night’s practices started and I thought it might be cool if we got ice cream that day; when he can’t stick his head in my office on the way to the gym and sneak in a quick hug.
This unfamiliarity and the loss of those special moments that will undoubtedly be replaced with other special moments, I’m sure, lead to possibly absurd, but no less real, fearful questions. What if his teacher hates him? What if he doesn’t make friends? What if he hates school just because he has to wear a uniform and uniforms are stupid, especially for tiny Kindergarteners (I know I hate his school for this so it stands to reason that he will too, I think)? What if public school erodes his blissful ignorance as to how the world works when I’m not quite ready for him to learn those hard lessons?
What it all boils down to is the sense, the reality, that Kindergarten is one step closer to my impending irrelevancy. A tiny step, sure, but a step nonetheless. Today it’s Kindergarten, next week it’s adolescence when he might hate me, then the teenage years when he will definitely hate me, then college, then part-time adult, then full-time adult, and on and on. Right now, he needs me; someday, he won’t, not like he does now, anyway. Right now, he wants to be like me; someday, he’ll be better than me, at least I hope he will. Right now, he and I are best buddies; someday, it is likely that we will not be best buddies, and then, maybe, if I’m lucky, we’ll be best buddies again somewhere down the line. Those changes are unavoidable and inevitable and at the moment, Kindergarten feels like a battering ram ripping through the gates of “Brian and Cooper Are Best Buddies" Castle.
In my heart, I know the changes headed our way are good and I’m rooting SO HARD for him to triumph over the coming challenges, whether it’s making friends in Kindergarten or picking a college or raising a kid of his own (way, way, WAY down the line). Still, it’s hard in the moment. Recently, Cooper held my hand while we were watching TV, and I thought, “Pretty soon, he’s gonna be too cool for this.” And that’s good! It would be weird for a teenage boy to hold his dad’s hand while watching Black Panther! I have loved every single phase of Cooper’s life in his five years on this earth. I will love this phase as well and the next one and each that follows (possibly exempting the awful teenage years). But I’ll also mourn a bit for the passing of this phase and for the knowledge of the passings that are still to come, all the while reminding myself that he is ready, even if I am not.