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Nothing prepared me for the moment my five-year-old said, "Mom, I don't want you to drop me off in my classroom any more. You can just say goodbye on the playground and then leave."
We were in the midst of a bedtime cuddle before lights out. I'd just finished singing him one of his favourite songs. Everything was blissful. And then it happened. Wham. With no warning at all. His words were strong enough to cause my heart to do a swan dive within my chest. I stuttered, trying to find a reply that would make me sound calm and mature, two qualities I didn't possess at that moment.
"Okay, honey," I said in my most understanding voice, one that did not betray my broken heart. "Why don't you want me to walk you in any more?"
"I just want to feel like I'm in Grade 2," he replied. "It's not because I don't love you. I just want to do it all by myself."
I fought back the tears that sprang to my eyes, hugged him a little too tightly and kissed him on the forehead.
"If that's what you want, I'll do it. I love coming into your classroom, but I know that you're growing up and I am proud of you," I said, closing the bedroom door behind me and hoping that my "baby" would forget about this whole arrangement when he awoke.
The next morning came, breakfast was served, eaten and cleared away and we had nearly reached the school when Pierce said, "Mom, do you remember that talk we had last night?"
"Yes," I said, my breath catching in my throat.
"Well, I meant it. So please can you say goodbye on the playground?"
I kissed him on each cheek before watching him skip all the way to the school doors, his oversized backpack bouncing with each step. At the door, Pierce turned around and blew me a kiss before flicking his hand in my direction to say, "It's time for you to leave."
I wasn't even allowed to watch him enter the school. So I walked around the corner and hid, peeking out from behind a tree to watch through the windows as the pom pom atop his navy-blue hat made its way to his classroom. As I turned to walk home, the tears I'd been trying so hard to hold back finally escaped. My baby boy no longer needed me.
After composing myself, I called my husband. "We need another baby," I said as soon as he answered.
"First of all, that's a terrible, horrible, awful idea," Austin replied calmly. "Now tell me what happened."
I recounted the story of my abandonment and explained in grave detail how I had been rendered useless in my son's life. Therefore, I explained, a baby would solve everything.
"Calm down, go home and have a nice warm cup of tea," he said. "We all need you and love you. I'm sure he's going to change his mind tomorrow and everything will be fine. And trust me, a baby will not make anything better."
I tried to harness some of Austin's rationality, but no matter how hard I tried, my emotions got the better of me. I couldn't wait to wrap my arms around my kids that afternoon. At pickup time, I breathed in the wonderful smell of them and kissed them on their heads before they squirmed out of my embrace. I told them how much I'd missed them and how I missed taking Pierce into his classroom.
"One day I'll let you come in again," he said.
"When do you think that will be?" I asked, trying to hide my excitement.
"Hmmm. How many days until Friday again?"
"Three," I said.
"Well then, maybe in two or three days," he replied, scooting off ahead of me toward home.
That night, Austin came home early for dinner. He'd sent three text messages throughout the day telling me how important I am to him and the kids, how much I'm needed and how much they all love me. The baby comment had definitely terrified him.
"So, Pierce," he said, finishing a mouthful of pasta. "Does this mean that I'm not allowed to drop you in your classroom when I take you to school on Fridays?"
"It's not forever, Dad," Pierce replied. "Maybe for another few days or so. I'll let you know."
"Did something happen at school that you don't want us to know about?" Austin asked.
Shocked, I looked at Austin. Why would he ask such a thing of our perfect little student? Pierce never gets in trouble at school and is always very honest. There was no way he would have done something naughty and then tried to cover it up – was there?
I looked over at my little boy and noticed his posture change immediately. His shoulders dropped and slumped forward, his head bowed and his eyes looked to the floor. "Yes," he whispered.
With that one little word my world changed. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus rang loudly in my head as I realized that I had been freed. My son had been naughty. He was trying to cover his tracks so we wouldn't know that he'd been in trouble with his teacher.
Who cares if he slipped up? He needed me. He wanted me. I was allowed back in to his classroom. I'd never been happier.
Shandley McMurray lives in London, England.