A new phase began in our lives: our first child went off to school. But my concern was less for the one that went and more for the sibling that stayed behind. I’m a mostly rational adult that knows how to deal with uncomfortable feelings, and my emotional state was a mixed bag of sadness, uncertainty, and excitement. So what about our son, the younger brother and the sibling that stayed behind? I could only imagine his confusion.
We’ve been fortunate to live abroad for the last 5 years. Both kids were born in the Dominican Republic which, among other things, has given us major flexibility when it comes to child care. Our nanny has been with us since the day our daughter was born. When it came time to decide on her daycare, we weren’t under the same pressure as most parent friends in the States. It wasn’t a necessity, at the time, to send our daughter to school. Instead, we were confident in our decision to keep her home with her younger brother. They’d be in school for the rest of their lives and now was the only time they’d get to spend together like this. For the last 3 years, they have been each others’ best friend. They have done it all together and never been apart.
So, when we walked our almost 5-year-old through her pre-k door, my concern was as much for our son, as it was for our daughter.
To Our Boy, the Sibling that Stayed Behind,
Your sister went off to school today. Life as you know it has completely devoured itself. And I’m sorry for that. I know you cannot understand right now why she has to leave you everyday or why you have to stay behind but you will get through this.
For as long as you’ve been alive, the only world you’ve known was the one where she was with you. You were born with an instant best friend. Today you watched out the window as friends played outside and insisted that you wanted to stay inside. I didn’t understand it until you mentioned your sister’s name, until I realized that, just as this is a first for her, it is a first for you. You’ve never had to walk into anything alone so this will not be easy… but it will be fine because you don’t have to be together to be a part of each other.
Remember when she started ballet and you stayed home with your dad? The excitement of being together when she came home was unmistakeable. Only an hour passed and yet, to you, it seemed like infinite light years. Now, hours will pass at home without her and you’ll have to learn to get along on your own. I’m sure that makes you sad; it makes me sad too. Your sister going to school means we are moving into a new phase and new phases aren’t always easy to accept. Change is tough. But sadness is ok. Sadness isn’t bad. It means you miss something that meant something to you and that’s beautiful.
Your sister is starting a part of her life that doesn’t include you, or me, or your dad. Unlike years before, she is journeying on her own, finding her way without us. I know this feels like a loss, like she’s leaving us behind but she isn’t. She is still on the same journey, she’s just on a different path. And one day, you’ll start down your own path too. Just like I did, just like your dad did. But we are always on the same adventure.
You will miss her at home. Who will you bite and annoy? And who will take what you’re playing with at the exact moment you decide to play with it? But take comfort in the fact that just because she is the one leaving doesn’t mean she won’t miss you too. Your sister was only 18 months old when you came into her life. She knew how to love you before she knew how to talk; one of her proudest moments was learning to say your name. She, too, barely knows a world that you aren’t a part of. You two are always connected.
And she will need you. She may be at the beginning of a new and marvelous road that doesn’t walk in tune with yours, but she will be scared and unsure and will need her brother. At times, she will need you more than she will need us and she will count on your silly nature to remind her that the world is a funny place.
Before we left her at school today, I wanted to smother her with hugs an drown her in kisses but I didn’t want my anxiety to make her nervous so I took a step back as you took a giant one forward and gave her the unfiltered, nervous-free hug that I couldn’t. You, my sweet child, are the reason that she can take this giant leap forward – because she knows you’ll be waiting for her when she arrives home no matter where her journey takes her.