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When the Little Moments Outshine the Big Ones

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Emotions are hard to predict. In the days and weeks leading up to my oldest child’s first day of kindergarten, I was certain that my emotions would get the better of me. But, when the big day finally came, everything felt surprisingly routine. We woke up early, rushed around to get ready, and took our first day pictures in the front yard before driving to school. We arrived, successfully navigated the hectic crush of cars and people, parked, and all piled out of our car to walk Jacob up to the school’s front door.

And that was pretty much it. His teacher, who we had met the day before, happened to arrive at the office door to collect her students just as we entered. We said our goodbyes and he walked away down the hall, his oversized Ninja Turtles backpack resting comfortably on his narrow shoulders. We then walked back to our car and carried on with our day. There were still two other children in the house to care for, so there was plenty to do.

I certainly expected that first drop-off to be more dramatic and emotional. So, after the first day was successfully in the books, I figured we were out of the woods. I was wrong. One day the next week, I dropped Jacob off in the car line for the first time because he asked to do it that way. Leading up to this day, I had always parked and walked him up to the door like we did on day one. We pulled into the school parking lot and inched forward in the line of cars as we creeped along the snaking drive that winds its way to a covered walkway in front of the school. I was a bit nervous as our turn to unload approached. I was worried both about Jacob being able to get himself out of the car in a reasonable amount of time and what he would do when he got out. Did he even know where to go?

When it came time to stop and unload, everything went perfectly. A teacher opened Jacob’s door and he hopped out. He slid the straps of his backpack on, said goodbye, and stepped up onto the sidewalk. Then he hurried along in the direction of the school, racing to catch up as we rolled away so he could wave one last time. If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that my kids never miss an opportunity to wave. But, once the waving was done, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw him bopping along toward the school building. He seemed so grown up. And that’s when it hit me.

In the muddle that is the early years of parenting it can be easy to forget obvious things. Like that your kids aren’t appendages of yourself; they are their own individual persons. In those first years, you get so used to having your children with you all the time, reliant on you for everything, often attached to your very person, that it’s easy to forget the separateness of your existence. But when they are suddenly out of your sight and away from your touch for seven hours a day, five days per week, this obvious truth becomes very apparent.

So, it was at this moment, this unexpectedly poignant moment, that I finally realized this mundane reality: my children are very much becoming their own people. Sure, they still need me, but little by little, day by day, the need recedes or shifts.

It’s funny how much we build up the big moments—the first days of school, the first words, the first steps—when it’s often the little moments that sneak up on us and leave us surreptitiously wiping our eyes in the car.

Andrew is the author of Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years. For more, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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