When he was a little over a year old, my son took his first steps. I was so afraid that I was going to miss those first steps, because my job required travel and I could see that he was getting so close. As it turned out, it was my lucky day; it was a miracle to watch him grow right in front of me.
With a gentle “Come to Mama” I'd beckon to him. He would grin, hesitate, and let go of whatever he was holding in order to cross the void between us, trusting me to catch him. The memory is breathtaking. With every little step he took, he built his stamina and his determination and found the ground to be more and more sturdy beneath him. It wasn't long before he was running, and I was trying to keep up.
Today, my son will step across the field of his elementary school and will emerge a rising middle schooler. He has given every indication that he is ready; he is not sad or worried but excited to explore a new frontier.
On the other side of his feelings are mine, intertwined but diverging. All of these years of elementary school are flashing before me, starting with that very first day of kindergarten. I can picture myself sending him off, tears rolling down my face in the parking lot after I dropped him off with a big, encouraging smile.
And then there is the community of mothers who have grown up with me, watching our children transition from tiny schoolkids with a light-yet-oversized backpack to big kids with backpacks that droop with the weight of many books and accumulated knowledge. That first week of kindergarten, a group of mothers convened at the local coffee shop - many meeting for the first time - to form the support system that has buoyed us through the years. It feels like yesterday. It feels like twenty years ago.
Now we are peeling away from each other, many roads going in many different directions. Some are moving away. Some are starting a journey in a different school in town. And some I won’t get to see very often anymore, because the parents don’t hang out at the schoolyard for middle school the way we have every day at pickup in the grade school years.
Our rising middle schoolers make their own lunches and speak to their friends in slang and abbreviations of which we are not privy. They have crushes and they whisper to each other, forming their own alliances and learning the edges of who they are. They are ready to dive deeper.
I know this is just one of many strides my son will take, and he will become more and more confident about the steps he takes on his own. He doesn’t need me to catch him, but he will go forward knowing that I am here when he needs a soft landing.
My soon-to-be elementary-school graduate and his classmates sang the song “A Million Dreams” from the movie The Greatest Showman outdoors near the soccer field. I listened to their sweet voices lift up to the skies with their swan song, words of hope and optimism and innocent faith:
"Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
A million dreams, a million dreams
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make."
I know he is ready. And I will be, too. Maybe not today, but soon.
Kristin Shaw is a writer based in Austin, Texas. For more of her writing, you can find her at KristinVShaw.com for parenting, music, and entertainment, and she's the co-founder of the Drive Mode show. Her essay and video "I can still pick him up, so I do" has been seen by millions of viewers on the TODAY Parents platform.