As I type this, my son is at his last ever preschool session. In less than three hours from now - probably a lot less by the time I hit 'publish' - I will collect him for the very last time. I wonder if there will be tears? His or mine? He walked in through the door proudly this morning, handing out chocolates and cards to the staff who have shaped his time there and clutching his cuddly dinosaur, Steggy, in readiness for today's Teddy Bears' Picnic. His last day already and it seems hardly any time at all since the very first time he walked through that door.
The photo above - as you might guess - shows my boy on his first day at preschool over two years ago next to today's shot of him on his final day. You can see physically how much he's changed. His hair is darker, he's obviously taller and he's lost that toddler fullness to his face. And then there's all the stuff the photos don't show. All the other ways he's changed. When he started preschool in April 2013 he was so shy. I'd ask him when I picked him up who he had played with that day - he'd always name a teacher rather than another child. It took him a while to have the confidence to join in with his peers, especially as he wasn't as 'physical' as some of them in terms of wanting to run and climb. Now he is so confident, it's untrue. My boy has a whole list of friends he loves to play with and runs straight off to join them when I take him in. Sadly most of them won't be at the same infant school as him in September but he has so much confidence with other kids now, I don't worry too much about him making new friends (though of course we shall keep in touch with the old ones as much as we can).
There's so much else he can do now that he couldn't do when he began his preschool journey. Toilet training has happened in that period as has other personal independence such as being able to dress himself. His number skills are fantastic now - he's forever adding up and multiplying - and his willingness to try his hand at drawing and writing has improved. He has bit of a perfectionist streak so doesn't like to see that the letters he has written look 'wrong' or messy. We overcame this a little with the use of whiteboards so that he could erase his mistakes and try again. Gone is the child who wouldn't try to write his name for fear of making an error and yesterday he not only signed his name on six thank you cards for staff at preschool without hesitation but he did most of them without me telling him which letter comes next in his name. My baby can officially write his name all by himself! Proud mummy moment. I've also seen him moving on from recognising individual letters to reading short, simple words as well as his verbal vocabulary going through the roof. No doubt about it, my boy is ready for proper school.
The question is: am I ready? No. No, I'm not. Not even close. Five years ago today was my last day at work before I went on maternity leave. Still two months before my boy was born, but still the start of five years of being a full time mum. My life has been all about him for all that time. When he started preschool at 2.5, it was so strange to have him away from me. Even just for two mornings a week. He now does three days but we still get two for 'just us'. How will I cope when he's in school 9-3, five days a week? We will find a new balance of course. But today I'm left reflecting on the baby that he used to be. The toddler that he used to be. And now the preschooler phase which is coming to a close this summer. These milestones are bittersweet; I love that he's growing up and I hate it too. It also feels harder because he's an only child - I won't get to do this over again with another one and the first time I experience these milestones as a mother will also be my last.
Of course, no matter how old he is, my boy will always be my baby. At 4, at 14, at 54. And I expect I will always want to make time stand still so that he doesn't get any older. I remember wanting that on his first day of preschool - to freeze him at age two forever. But ultimately, I'm glad I couldn't. If he'd stayed two forever, I wouldn't have got to know the smart, funny, wonderful little boy he is at four. And if I froze him here at four, I wouldn't get to know what he's going to be like at six or ten or 25. As much as I am sad that his babyhood is gone - and that I don't have another to raise - I am proud of who my little boy is becoming and how much fun he is to be around. This is the end of an era for sure, but I'm excited for the new era ahead and all the adventures that I can have with my no-longer-quite-so-little little boy.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think there's something in my eye...