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Watching my son grow up is bittersweet

Modified: Friday, Aug 30th, 2013

The author's son just before he entered his kindergarten classroom for the first time Wednesday at Soquel Elementary School. (Photo by Todd Guild/Register-Pajaronian)
With a hug and a wave, my 5-year-old son let go of my hand, got into line and marched into his kindergarten class Wednesday morning, clutching his new lunch bag and wearing his penguin backpack.

The new students — three classes in all — walked through a gauntlet of parents, who were largely ignoring the teachers’ halfhearted admonitions to go home.

It was a moment for which I had been waiting, and to some extent dreading, for some time, but it came and went without tears or crying or screaming or begging to stay home, as I had expected.

Not by the kids, mind you. My son was so happy to go to school he was literally dancing with excitement.

It was the parents I expected to see get emotional, and a few of them certainly did, although for the most part that took the form of holding back tears.

And then the kids were gone, and the group of bewildered moms, dads and caretakers slowly filtered away.

As parents, we place a great deal of stock in our kids’ childhoods. From the time I first held my newborn son, I vowed to protect him and to make his childhood as happy as I could.

I would be his father, his teacher and his playmate, I told myself.

As he got bigger and began to discover the world around him, I found to my surprise that he was teaching me as much as I was him.

I was rediscovering the world around me, and perhaps this is one of the best gifts my children have given me. Things that once were commonplace now hold the potential of wonder, for both children and parents.

Instead of passing by construction sites with nary a glance, I now see the excavators, tractors and other earthmovers my boys love.

I look at rivers, lakes and puddles as places to pause for hours to splash and throw rocks.

My boys see a park bench they often jump on with a hoot, commanding me to “get on the train,” then devise long rail trips, very often to China or Russia.

A giant log becomes a motorcycle, and picking up a stick opens up a world of imaginative possibilities.

Perhaps that’s why It’s so hard sometimes to see our children grow up — with their impending maturity comes a farewell to a brief revival of our childhood.

At the same time, however, it is a glorious thing indeed to allow ourselves to see what our children have to teach us.

Among these, perhaps most important is this: most of what we consider important can wait. Play with your kid. The dirty dishes can sit in the sink. The laundry does not have to get folded right now.

Next, no matter how annoying you might find a particular book, game or behavior, you will miss it when it is gone. My 2-year-old no longer comes to the kitchen and demands to be held as I cook dinner, and I miss it, despite the fact that I now have both hands free.

Finally, let go. When I’m in a rush to get to the store or work, I try my best to take a few minutes to pause and play.

Because one day, I know I’ll be letting go of their hands for the final time as they go off and make a life of their own.

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