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Watching Me Go

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The crayoned picture shows a first-grade boy with shoebox arms, stovepipe legs and tears squirting like melon seeds. The carefully printed caption reads, "I am so sad." It is my son Brendan's drawing-journal entry for September 19. Brendan cried his first day of school, dissolving at his classroom door like a human bouillon cube. The classroom jiggled with small faces, wet-combed hair, white Nikes and new backpacks. Something furry scuttled around in a big wire cage. Garden flowers rested on Mrs. Phillips's desk. Mrs. Phillips has halo status at our school. She is a kind, soft-spoken master of the six-year-old mind. But even she could not coax Brendan to a seat. Most kids sat eagerly awaiting Dick and Jane and two plus two. Not my Brendan. His eyes streamed, his nose ran and he clung to me like a snail on a strawberry. I plucked him off and escaped.

It wasn't that Brendan didn't like school. He was the kid at the preschool Christmas concert who knew everyone's part and who performed "Jingle Bells" with operatic passion. Brendan just didn't like being apart from me. We'd had some good times, he and I, in those preschool years. We played at the pool. We skated on quiet morning ice. We sampled half the treat tray at weekly neighbourhood coffee parties. Our time together wasn't exactly material for a picture book, but it was time together. And time moves differently for a child. Now in Grade 1, Brendan was faced with five hours of wondering what I was doing with my day. Brendan always came home for lunch, the only one of his class not to eat at his desk. But once home, fed and hugged, a far-away look of longing would crease his gentle brow--he wanted to go back to school to play! So I walked him back, waited with him until he spotted someone he knew, then left. He told me once that he watched me until he couldn't see me anymore, so I always walked fast and never looked back. One day when I took Brendan back after lunch, he spied a friend, kissed me goodbye, and scampered right off. I went, feeling pleased for him, celebrating his new independence, his entry into the first-grade social loop. And I felt pleased for myself, a sense of well-being and accomplishment that I, too, had entered the mystic circle of parents whose children separated easily.

Then--I don't know why--I glanced back. And there he was. The playground buzzed all around him, kids everywhere, and he stood, his chin tucked close, his body held small, his face intent but not sad, blowing me kisses. So brave, so unashamed, so completely loving, Brendan was watching me go.

No book on mothering could have prepared me for that quick, raw glimpse into my child's soul. My mind leaped 15 years ahead to him packing boxes and his dog grown old and him saying, "Dry up, Mom. It's not like I'm leaving the country." In my mind I tore up the card every mother signs saying she'll let her child go when he's ready. I looked at my Brendan, his shirt tucked in, every button done up, his toes just turned in a bit, and I though, "OK, you're six for me forever. Just try to grow up, I dare you." With a smile I had to really dig for, I blew him a kiss, turned and walked away.


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