Sending My Firstborn to Pre-K: a Mortality Exercise

by Ariel Rivera November 20, 2017

woman hugging a child

This September I put my first-born on the conveyor belt from which he'll never return and now we'll both get older and older until he moves out of the house forever and there is no going back. Other, saner people have described this as "sending their child to Pre-K." On the one hand, I am relieved that he has a warm, safe place to learn, complete with a cubby with his name on it and two hooks: one for his backpack which is too big for him but holds a lunchbox, a water bottle, a blanket for rest, and his very well-loved transitional object (an Elmo plush toy with extremely matted fur, one half of an eyeball and enough bacteria to satisfy his microbiome for all of eternity); and one for his jacket. On the other hand, I am obsessed with how fast time is flying. As a person who has never done acid, I am having what feels like acid flash-forwards of him as a grown man whenever I stare at his three-year-old person too long, like that scene on the stairs in Father of the Bride. If motherhood is total ecstasy and absolute despair felt in every cell of your body, then having a pre-kindergartener has been peak both for me. I can feel him slipping away like an overfull grocery bag with a widening rip when I leave him in class in the morning. I am pathetic, asking him for one more kiss and a forward-facing hug. On the flip side, he wants to be carried home from school, absolutely aching to explain things he's learned, like self control, to me: "It's when you want to touch something but you don't; you use ... self control!" There was a time when he was a newborn where time itself made no sense. I remember being so downtrodden and filled with waning hormones that I wrote this melodramatic thing in the notes section of my iPhone: It's New York Fashion Week and I'm laying perfectly still in a small apartment that rattles because of its proximity to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and I'm wearing a milk-soaked top by Jessica Simpson and elastic waist leopard-print pants that are bunched up around my knees. 12 years ago I interned at Vogue with sparkly, interesting people, some of whom have become television celebrities, internationally known editors, wardrobe department icons, and acclaimed novelists. I should be napping because the baby is but I drank a large cup of extra strong coffee when it looked like he was going to be awake for a while. He fell asleep 15 minutes later. Obstacles in the way of a nap are: maniacally repeating "you should be napping" over and again in my brain, wanting a shower, a stack of unsent (unwritten) thank you notes, a sink full of dishes, and the inability to stop sweating. Most of the time seconds after he falls asleep my heart aches from how much I miss him. My body feels foreign to me when he's not in my arms. Is this left over from pregnancy? Ours is the most codependent relationship I've ever had and believe me that's saying a lot. I kiss him on the mouth a thousand times a day with a lump in my throat wondering who he'll kiss in this life besides me and if I'll always feel so achingly sad. I sob thinking about how he may live to be one hundred but I won't be around for one hundred more years to see it. He is six weeks old. Now when I write about him, my heart races from the effort of trying to recall all the not mundane things I want to say about him. And the times when he wakes in the night I am thrilled to feel him crawl into bed next to me. I still watch him while he sleeps, paralyzed for different reasons. We can't imagine babies becoming people (even though we did), but we can imagine elementary school aged children becoming middle school aged children, and middle school aged children becoming high school aged young adults who then go off to college leaving us to wave at them from the lawn as the camera fades out and we turn to raisins in the sun. School is one of those milestones that we are all hopefully lucky enough to reach in the course of our lives. Puberty, graduation, marriage, kids – it can feel like a checklist and it's scary when you see how many boxes you've checked and how many remain. On bad days I'm anxious and morbid, but on good days I am grateful, prepared, living each day like it’s our last.

Ariel Rivera


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