First day of school

September 1, 2009

MorningIt is my oldest son's first day of kindergarten, or really his first hour of kindergarten. My husband and I are taking him to be "oriented" to his classroom in anticipation for the real start tomorrow, sans parents. Given there is no separation involved in this orienting hour, I am aghast when tears begin spilling from my eyes, striping my cheeks. "We have made it to kindergarten," I tell myself. I take a deep breath and wipe my eyes.My son, Harry, and I walk hand in hand down the corridor as kids and parents bustle about, the enthusiasm and excitement palpable. The 1600's brick school house is quintessential New England and quintessential kindergarten. Its large wooden windows are cracked a little, just enough to waif in the nippy fall air. The classroom walls are laden with 5-year-old art, its shelves lined with bottles of Elmer's glue, small red and white milk cartons and colored plastic trays. Memories of kindergarten 35 years ago come flooding back."Mom, are you staying with me today?" Harry asks for the third time of the day."Yes, honey, Mommy is not going anywhere." I shudder at the irony of the words.My husband, having arrived by separate car, spots us coming down the hall and notices my tears. He gives me a nod that suggests he understands my typical mother-letting-go-of-son emotions. What I cannot utter, for fear of dissolving in front of my son, husband and a multitude of composed parents, is that my tears are not about letting go of my son as he enters kindergarten, but of complete joy and gratitude for being able to let him go. I had played this very scene over and over again in my mind, praying every day, all day, that I would be blessed to act it out. Here I am. Alive and cancer-free after my lymphoma diagnosis two years ago. Thank you, God.EveningI drive 30 miles north to glorious New Castle Island, NH, to pick up my nephews, Brad and Adam, for some back-to-school shopping. Adam is starting his freshman year of college and Brad his junior year. As they approach the car, I am struck by their stature, each over six feet tall."Are you registered for all your classes?" I ask Brad as we drive toward the department store."Yup," he replies as he checks his email on his BlackBerry."Don't forget to go to Health Services to check on your health care coverage, you have a doctor's appointment next week. We need to make sure you are still covered by your school insurance.""Yeah, will do," he replies as his thumbs move quickly across his phone's keyboard. As we enter the department store, we separate. I head for the toddlers and boys section and they head to mens. I watch them go, remembering with a familiar ache when my sister and I would shop for them in toddlers and boys.We leave the department store, exhausted and hungry, with carts overflowing with bedding, towels, and speakers – all later to be housed in dorm rooms."I'm starving," says Adam as he surfs on his iPod."How about Flatbreads," suggests Brad."Sweet," replies Adam, and I steer the car in the direction of the local pizzeria."How did Harry like his first day of kindergarten?" Brad asked as the waitress brings the large chicken and artichoke pizza, small white, and large garden salad. Man, can they eat.We talk about Harry's teacher, the school bus and his new found ability to run faster in his brand new Nikes. I'm careful not to mention my tears."Thanks so much, Kit," Brad says as we finish every last bite of food."Yeah, Kit, thank you for everything," echoes Adam."Of course," I say as I raise my glass to them. It is hard to believe it is exactly five years ago today that my sister died of breast cancer. "Your mom would be so proud of the two of you starting school. And, I know she'd want us to be together tonight. I love you both so much."For the second time of the day, my eyes well with tears, as her sons' eyes, no longer scanning their Blackberry and iPod, lock mine. My heart swells with love, loss and deep gratitude for being alive to share in their first day of school, too.Kit E. Haber, PsyD, is a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor and a carrier of the BRAC1 gene. She aspires to share her stories of loss and challenge through writing in order to help others move forward through similar experiences. She resides in Saint Augustine, Fla., with her husband and three young sons. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and executive coach and can be reached at kithaber@gmail.com.