Today was my son’s first day of junior kindergarten. Like many parents, sending your first child to elementary school comes with a variety of emotions: excitement, happiness, joy, and perhaps disbelief over the fact that your baby is now growing up. It is only natural, I would say, for a parent to feel this way as you’ve witnessed your little human being grow from baby, to toddler to preschooler.
I suppose that today was rather bittersweet. Although my son was more than ready to start junior kindergarten, a part of me was not. The weeks leading up until today, my son would exclaim “I am a big boy, I am going to big school now!” and I would just laugh. But a big part of me felt sad and for whatever reason, and memories of the NICU started to slowly creep back. My little baby, who was very fragile those first few months of life, is now a feisty little boy. Most people I spoke with assumed that I was going to be fine on the first day of school, considering that he’s been in daycare since the age of 1. But I did not feel that way, rather, I was sad knowing that he was growing up. Time was going by way too fast.
Up until today, I started to have many flashbacks of our time in the NICU. In fact, I can still hear those monitors beeping. I remember the nurses recording how many millimetres of breastmilk he took by an NG tube, or how much weight he gained during weight check day.
It feels like yesterday that we routinely visited his neonatal follow-up clinic, where we spent a few hours observing how he played, or reviewing the results of his Bailey assessment for his development. I remember the nurses plotting down his growth on a chart and the doctor explaining his progression on the growth curve.
It feels like yesterday that we were taking him to daycare for the first time, being worried about the amount of colds he would get and how it would affect his health, considering he was still at risk for various respiratory illnesses.
It feels like yesterday that we were working with his occupational therapist with his feeding and trying to figure out why he had so many issues with feeding.
It feels like yesterday that I attended classes for Target Word, in an attempt to help him with his speech.
It feels like yesterday when his ENT told me that he needed his tonsils and adenoids removed immediately as he had severe sleep apnea and that he was not breathing properly at nighttime. (I was given only two days notice, by the way).
It feels like yesterday when we went to his final neonatal follow-up clinic where he was discharged from the program, as he met all his milestones for his corrected age.
It feels like yesterday when his daycare teachers told us that he is ready for junior kindergarten. Was it coming that soon?
Yet, despite all of those obstacles….here we are. Although the worry is always there, I take comfort knowing that my child finally graduated from preschool and is now in junior kindergarten.
As I watched my son enter his classroom for the first time today, I did shed a few tears. He was so proud of himself of the way he held his new backpack. However, I came to the realization that these were tears of joy, because I knew he did it, despite everything he’s been through.
What makes this day even more special is knowing how well all the children (who were in the NICU the same time as my son was,) are doing now. I do keep in touch with a few of the parents I met during our time there and it is so remarkable to see our former preemies grow up and do so well. They are thriving! The week leading up until the first day of school, I saw an array of photos on social media, with backpacks, lunches packed and of course photos of our kids eith the “first day of school” sign. It is amazing to witness the absolute excitement in their eyes. Starting junior kindergarten is a special milestone for any family, let alone an NICU one.
To all my NICU parents, all I can say is this: We did it!