The First Day of Kindergarten, and the Main Character

I read a moving article yesterday written by a man who had recently dropped off his son at college. There was a particular part that got to me—something about how parenthood is like being a secondary character in someone else’s story, and that it doesn’t matter because being a parent is enough of a reward. I related to this, and so I cried—partly, I admit, because it implies that my part of the story, the part when I am the central character, is over. I’ve been feeling this more and more the older I get.

I tried to remind myself that there’s plenty more to do. I half felt it. The world belongs to younger generations. Movies I grew up with are now being remade. Our fashions have made the full cycle to being back in style. I might be on top of the hill right now, but that’s just because I’m about to go over it. Many days, I’d much rather still be climbing up. I’m even a little jealous of my son, who is just planting a foot at the base of the mighty hill. He has so much to look forward to.

Today was my son’s first day of kindergarten. I cried a bit before we left to walk to school and worried my son, who’d been quite fine until he saw tears streaming down his mother’s face. I assured him I wasn’t sending him anywhere evil.

I wasn’t crying because I thought he’d be scared. I wasn’t crying because I was worried he won’t like it. I wasn’t crying, even, because it was the First Big Goodbye. I was crying because motherhood is like having an open wound that anyone walking by can poke, and sending my son to school is like asking for the wound to be stabbed with serrated knives. Maybe not that bad. But close.

I did not cry at the school. I kept it together like a She-Woman for the sake of my little one, since I’d already horrified him. (Though I almost lost it when a neighbor put a hand on my shoulder and asked, “Crying yet?”)

When I picked him up after school he smiled, like I knew he would, and said, “That was really fun.” Any sadness I had this morning whisked away.

And when I got home, an email was waiting for me. One of the authors I’d asked to write a blurb about my book had responded with a very nice note (which you’ll be seeing on the back cover when the book comes out).

I felt very much on top of the hill. And it reminded me that we’re all secondary characters in someone else’s story. Whether we’re central to our own story is up to us.

On the way into school, the early climb

19 responses to “The First Day of Kindergarten, and the Main Character”

  1. Quanie Miller (@QuanieMiller) Avatar

    I don’t have kids yet but I know what you mean! And I’m glad you got your blurb. I bet it made you feel that everything was going to be okay and that you were right where you needed to be (even if that means going over the hill!).

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Yes, Quanie, exactly!

  2. muddledmom Avatar

    Good for you! I cried for two weeks when my son went to kindergarten. It felt like someone had died. I’m a wimp. 😦 That’s so true though, about being secondary characters in someone else’s story. What a great way to put it and to remember that the kids really do have their own lives–and I’ve found that the older they get, the more I need to have my own life!

    My husband and I differ greatly on where our own lives stand. He sees the stage in our lives as over the hill with few options. I see us at a stage for renewal–kids are independent, we’re young, we know more than we did in our 20s. I feel very much like my story is far from over. I just don’t know yet where it is leading.

    Great post.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thank you. It is something I look forward to–the point when the kids are more independent and we can be wild & crazy and do things like go to movies as a family at 7pm! My kids are in bed so early, and the littlest still naps, that we have few choices. I saw a family walking into town the other night for ice cream as we were getting ready for bed and thought, How nice.

      And I think your point of view will keep you young! (and happy.)

      1. muddledmom Avatar

        It’s nice, so many things to look forward to! I remember being there with my kids.

        I think my point of view will keep me young–I just have to get this old man I’m married to onboard. 😉

  3. Krista Avatar

    Really well said, Jess. The same part of yesterday’s column resonated with me, but this part of yours is put even better: “And it reminded me that we’re all secondary characters in someone else’s story. Whether we’re central to our own story is up to us.”

    Thanks for sharing – glad his first day went well!

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thank you, Krista! Let’s hope it continues. (You have much to look forward to!)

  4. Lynne Chesters Nielsen Avatar

    Beautiful story! I used to cry on the first day of school and I was the teacher! Seeing all of the little sweet faces, the new school supplies and backpacks, the hovering parents… My mind would remember the days when I dropped my own children off the first day, and then later my grandchild. All I hoped for was that the teacher would be kind, gentle and patient with these precious souls. It is such a special event in the lives of children. Thank you for sharing this lovely story!

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      What a lovely teacher that you cried too! I hope for the same–that the teacher is kind and patient. So far, she seems wonderful.

  5. laekanzeakemp Avatar

    That is such a powerful metaphor. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Jennifer Lyn King Avatar

    We are all secondary characters in someone else’s story. This is so powerful, Jess.

    My kids all ventured back to school this week, too. I cried when my oldest stepped on the bus for high school. (High school!)

    I recently found a photo of his first day of kindergarten, with his arms loosely draped about his younger brothers’ shoulders. They grow fast, and it’s a wonderful thing. I love their growing independence and the sense of the gifts they have to use in life. But like MuddledMom said above, the more I know I need my own life, too.

    It is so hard, this balance called motherhood. Thank you for the beautiful tribute to a new phase. You’re embracing it well!

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      So, so fast. (Especially after that first year.) I don’t think it can be said too much, because it is so stunning. I can already see the day my son goes off to high school, with me crying beside the bus.

  7. Girl with a New Life Avatar

    “we’re all secondary characters in someone else’s story.” I really enjoyed this post.

    PS A big congrats on your upcoming publication!

  8. mark Avatar

    totally get what you were feeling. experienced that 3 times now. now that I’m a tad more than merely middle age, to me it’s a great pleasure to sit back and watch them make their moves in the world, missteps and all and having learned NOT to come to the rescue with my sage advice until asked. 🙂 and even then i just lay out different scenarios and let them calculate the probabilities. congrats on the book!!!!

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      You mentioned my #1 goal–to lay out the scenarios and let them make the decision, offering advice only when asked. I hope I can do it. I practice a little every day…

  9. Nina Badzin Avatar

    So well said! Love the point about secondary characters–that’s a healthy way of thinking about it because I think many get confused about living THROUGH the kids.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Yes, I can definitely see, as an at-home mom, that it will be hard once they’re gone and in college. But I’ve also tried (not really tried – just HAD to) have my own thing going, whether it be writing, earning my teaching certificate, or helping a friend with communications for her business.

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