What My Daughter’s First Day of School Taught Me About the Planned Obsolescence of Parenthood
Today was my eldest baby’s first day of school. Not just first day for the year, but first day EVER. She’s been to daycare, and while they learned there, it’s not the same as sitting-in-a-classroom, packing-a-lunch, getting-a-report-card school.
She was excited about school. Has been for months. Binnybeans was constantly telling people about how she’s going to all-day 4K in the fall. She showed off her first day of school outfit to anyone who visited our house. Every time I asked her what she thought about going to school, she said, “I’m mostly excited. A little scared, but way more excited!” Then she’d usually squeal.
Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to this. I even bought a little sparkling wine to celebrate.
I had. Earlier that day, we were at the store and I bought a single-serve bottle of sparkling wine. I told Binnybeans that I was going to “pop the bubbly” when she went to school. She got very mad. “You’re going to pop bubbles without me?”
“No, sweetie. Pop the bubbly. I means I’m going to drink this bubbly wine.” I tried to reassure her that she wasn’t missing out on any fun.
You see, ever since I graduated from college (a month before Budgie was born), she’s been home with me. She hasn’t gone to many playdates and she hasn’t been going to daycare. It’s been Binnybeans, Budgie, and I for over a year now. I love her dearly, but she needs to get out of the house more. She has to work on sharing, taking turns, and otherwise growing up. I can teach her how to write her name, but I can’t teach her to play well with others if there aren’t other kids her age around.
That was, until last night. I stood in the kitchen spreading a brand new jar of strawberry jam from the Farmers’ Market on her wheat bread. And I started to cry. I was packing her first lunch. This would be the first time she ate lunch in a cafeteria. The first time she was responsible for bringing her lunch with her each day. The first time for the next thirteen years. Except for school breaks and random days off, we wouldn’t watch Sesame Street while I cleaned up breakfast. She wouldn’t go through the routine of clearing her spot, going potty, and taking a nap. It would be just me and Budgie at lunch. That bubble of excitement I felt about getting her out of the house 5 days a week just popped.
I was frozen, butter knife in hand, crying. My husband came through the kitchen, taking the garbage out. “What’s your deal?” he asked.
“My baby’s going to school tomorrow.”
“Yeah. So? What’s that go to do with making sandwiches?”
He doesn’t get it. He hasn’t spent pretty much every day with her for the last year and a half (almost). I tried to explain, but in that moment, I couldn’t explain it.
After a pause, he added, “Aren’t you happy? Didn’t you buy a bottle of bubbly to celebrate?”
In my kitchen, I laughed a little, remembering her anger in the store. “Yeah, I’m happy. But it still bums me out a bit. I mean, I’m going to miss her.”
My husband shrugged. “It was going to happen sooner or later.” He finished taking the garbage out.
Yes, she was going to head off to school sooner or later. She was going to grow up sooner or later. And because I’m a good parent, it meant that sooner or later, she wasn’t going to need me anymore.
The job of a parent is planned obsolescence. If you do your job right, eventually you become obsolete. They don’t need you anymore. Teach them how to read, do math, reason, plan, cook… pretty soon you’re teaching them to drive, balance a checkbook, and hunt for an apartment. And then… well, by then they shouldn’t be needing you much anymore.
Yeah, they still want you around. I want my N64 around. My husband wants his old vinyl records around. But do we need them? No. I’m in my mid thirties and I still want my parents around. But I can live my life without them. They live in 7 hours away. And because they did their job right, I am a functioning adult, living my life and raising two more lives without them telling me how to do it.
And I had these life skills before I was 18. I knew how to cook for myself, mend clothing, balance a checkbook, wash laundry, etc. Sure, I made mistakes, but I learned from them.
Furthermore, eventually my parents won’t be there. I plan to outlive my parents, and when that sad day comes, they will be completely obsolete. They will be gone and I will have to manage without them. But they prepared me for that.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing with Binnybeans. I’m preparing her to not need me. Right now, it’s little things like teaching her how to open her Go-Gurt or put a straw in her Capri-Sun so that she can eat lunch without me. But soon, it’ll be teaching her to be responsible for her homework so I don’t need to harp on her. And it just continues on from there. Until she doesn’t need me.
While starting school may be a big step on that path, there have been little steps along the way. I don’t wipe her butt anymore. I don’t dress her every day. She can pour her own drink and clear her own spot. Daddy has been teaching her how to properly (safely!) use a knife and cook. Grammy and I teach her how to sew. She helps with the laundry and knows how to fold washcloths.
So I faced today knowing that this is a good thing. Did I cry a little when I dropped her off? Yeah. Did my heart melt a little when I saw her follow her teacher into the building? Totally.
Did I pop that bubbly when I got home? Of course!