Leading up to his first day of school, Jim was bombarded with a lot of questions about kindergarten. He's shy so sometimes he wouldn't really answer. With his aunts and uncles, grandparents, and us, he would lower his head and quiet his voice to a whisper. It's as if he were telling a secret: "Actually, I'm a little bit nervous." I don't know where he picked that up. He probably heard me or EA say it. Regardless, that response is pure Jim.
I was a little nervous too. Not because I thought kindergarten would be hard on him or because I didn't have faith in our oldest son. I was nervous because he was nervous. And, honestly, I was probably more nervous because we were speeding past another landmark on the steep downward grade that is growing up. And I keep realizing that there are no brakes.
Yeah, that's likely why I'm nervous. The kid is growing up fast. I'm fairly certain he could fit in my arms last week. He would fall asleep on my chest. Now he's in elementary school. I'm nervous because I'm going to blink and we'll have blazed past middle and high school. Despite his insistence that he's going to live with us forever, he's going to go off to college. And what kind of man will he be?
That question opens a flood gate of other questions. What if we screw up in raising him? What if kids are mean to him at some point in school? What if the wrong group of kids influence him? What if he gets overwhelmed? What if he takes no interest in God? What if we grow apart? What if he turns out to be a jerk? What if we do everything "right" and it still all falls apart?
I see that bright-eyed 5 year old in that kindergarten room and I see so much hope. Yet fear keeps sneaking in under the doorways. I want to protect him, but I also know that I have to let him go little by little. I have to let him be out there in the world where wonderful and terrible things happen. I know this is part of growing up. I know that this is good and needed, but, actually, I'm a little bit nervous.
We walked him inside on his first day. Since both EA and I had schools that we needed to get to, we were the first ones in the classroom. We stood there for a moment. Jim tugged on my pants leg. We kneeled down. "Mommy, Daddy, I'm a little bit nervous." We told him it was okay to be nervous and talked about times we had been nervous. He teacher said that she was nervous too. Eventually he warmed up. As we were walking out, Jim and his new teacher were coloring a picture. He wanted to color the monkey red.
EA and I made it all the way outside before we cried. We prayed that Jim would be safe and make friends. We prayed that he would always know that he is loved. I drove to work in tears, taking frequent deep breaths as I tried to calm down. I was nervous. In my head, I knew Jim would be fine, but my heart was all kinds of nervous.
Jim had a great first day of school. That is literally all that we got out of him.
"How was your first day of school?"
"What did you do?"
"I don't remember."
But he said something cool that night. After reading Superman Family Adventures and saying prayers, I told him good night and began to leave the room. I almost missed what he said. Jim usually goes into long soliloquies when we leave his room at bedtime. He stalls like a champ. I was halfway out the door when he called out, "Daddy, I started having fun at school today and I forgot to be nervous."
I don't know if that is something that his teacher told him or what, but it was incredibly wise. It's a spin on something Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. Do not worry about tomorrow. Don't focus on being nervous. Live in the now, love, focus, have fun, and you'll forget about being worried. It's good life advice. It floored me all the more coming from a 5 year old who sprints out of the room when he sees a bug.
In the raising of our two boys, there is so much that EA and I can't control. We could let those fears and nerves overwhelm us. We could let the eventual passing of Jim and Liam's childhoods haunt us like a specter. Or we could love our children, raise them the best that we can, and have fun. We'll still cry and worry. But we'll forget to be nervous.
"That's really cool, buddy. I'm glad that you had fun. I love you."
"I love you, Daddy."