When my son was 19 months old I put him in a day camp from 9 – 12. I think most people can remember their first experience dropping off their children. From being under my watchful eye for so many months to just leaving him in a classroom for a few hours, I remember the day feeling very weird. Those three hours seemed to go on forever. (Now he’s at school until 2:30 and the day goes by in a blink) Since then he’s been dropped off for school and a different summer camp but the transition is always a little difficult. For the first little while at a new place he cries at drop off but is always fine a few minutes later (as I hear from the teachers or friends who drop off after me) and he ALWAYS has a smile on his face when I pick him up at the end of the day.

Today was the first time he was in a drop-off after-school program. I’ve been taking him to Kidville for programs since he was 9 months old at least once a week, but they were always Mommy and Me, so I would stay with him for the class. I told him weeks ago about this new class he was signed up for and I explained that I wouldn’t be staying. He remembers everything, so when I reminded him today that after school we were going to Kidville he asked, “You can’t come in?” I said, “No, but I’m not going far, I’ll wait for you and then take you home.” He replied, “I’m not going to be scared.”

On the drive to Kidville we had a similar discussion. I parked the car, he helped me get a ticket at the machine, and then he ran towards the building. Everything changed once he walked inside the classroom. When he saw the kids sitting playing and no adults except the teacher, it clicked for him that I really wasn’t staying. He started to CRY. “Stay with me.” “Something is bothering me” “I don’t want to go in.”

At this point the class was starting and we were disrupting so I took him outside. I tried to tell him that he was going to have a great time and that it’s only 45 minutes but he was having none of it. I considered just leaving with him but I decided to give it another shot. I told him that if he stopped crying I would sit outside the classroom and wait there, but that if he continued crying I would have to leave the building and only come back at pickup time. This worked and he went into the room and the teacher closed the door.

They are under construction so it was a fake wall that separated us – you know the kind where you can hear every word? I heard it 😦 “I want my mommy.” Over and over and over. I didn’t actually look at the length of time but it felt like forever. Luckily at that moment my friend Y texted me encouraging words about my flying post I had just posted before I left the house. I realize now that I didn’t even thank her, I just started telling her that he was crying and my heart was breaking. She empathized and made me feel better.

I debated going into the classroom and taking him home. I thought to myself, “This isn’t worth it. He’s scared. He doesn’t know anyone in the room. Any other time I dropped him off, he knew at least one other kid. Should I let him cry for a 45 minute program that he will go to once a week?” But then, I thought about all the times he cried at drop off and then had the best day.

Just as I was having this inner debate, the crying stopped. I wish I would have had a one-way mirror and could see him, but I had to just be happy that the crying stopped. 4:00 came and the teacher opened the door. Kids were walking out, and then there was my son with a big smile on his face and I got a big hug. He told me he had a great time!! I said to him, “Even though you struggled and had a hard time at the beginning, you were able to overcome it and you had a great time! Good for you!” (Thanks mom – lesson from your book). He repeated me and said something like, “Ya, I cried but then I had a great time!” In the car on the way home we were still talking about it and he told me, “I don’t want to cry next time.” I know, he is the sweetest.

It wasn’t fun listening to him cry. It was so hard to sit there and know that I could make all his sadness and fears go away just by opening the classroom door and getting him. But I got to witness him overcome it and be proud of himself. He felt so good that he was able to do it. I went from feeling so sad to feeling so happy for him.

Sometimes we avoid having our children do things that we know won’t be easy or comfortable for them, but in doing so we are short-changing them and not allowing them to have experiences where they end up surprising themselves and proving to themselves that they could handle it.

I knew it before today, but today he reminded me once again, he can handle it.

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