One night, four years ago, on your birthday, Mummy and Daddy sat with many first-time pre-school parents in the old Marymount Kindy located at Thomson Road. The principal then was Mrs Kew, a wonderful woman so full of life and love for the children under her watch. She was always quick to offer a smile of acknowledgement to parents, join in the laughter of you little ones, and lend a hand to teachers struggling to get the small children to move along in line.
You kids would soon greet her with “Good morning Mrs Kew and may God Bless Yooouu!” once the school term began properly.
But on that night that was not only your birthday, we sat listening eagerly to Mrs Kew dispense her years of experienced advice, wisdom and assurances to us parents who would soon send our firstborn to Pre-Nursery in a few days’ time.
“One of the highlights for the K2 is the school overnight camp,” she informed. “Some kids will cry but most will be happy. They really look forward to the camp. It’s the parents who don’t do so well!” Guilty, nervous laughter all round.
“We can go for a short trip then!” I remember your daddy and I engaging in fantasy then.
We could laugh.
Because that day seemed so far away then.
K2? You hadn’t even put on your uniform!
Camp? You were still sharing a room with us!
And then it happened.
In the blink of an eye and the beat of a heart, four years have gone by.
We will likely not remember any of this but know that this camp was eagerly anticipated by parents more than you guys. It was the goal towards which many of us set targets against. Raegan weaned himself off wearing diapers, Hunter learnt to sleep by himself.
You? You have learnt to brush your own teeth and to bathe yourself. Small victories that we don’t care much for. What we cared a lot about – you being excited about your one day and night away from us.
I honestly thought I would be fine – I was so excited for you! Spending a day at Kidzania, all the games you’ll play, a campfire! Storytelling and getting to crawl into your own sleeping bag… I did this only when I was in Primary 6!
I was not fine.
Neither were a lot of the mummies.
Bravely, we sent you all off with your big bags – a sleeping bag and six ziploc bags packed with various items needed for different parts of the camp, as clearly instructed by your teachers:
We hugged you and kissed you and said our we-love-yous and be-awesomes and have-funs.
Then we left you in the care of your teachers.
Months ago the mummies talked about how wonderful such a camp was as a rite of passage. That day and night, we texted our indignation at why K2s needed to learn independence at all.
Emma slept with us that night. I slept beside her and with you as well – I was caught in a recurring dream where I was hugging my bolster and honestly thought I was hugging you. I turned to Daddy to mumble, “If you hug the bolster like this, it feels like you’re hugging Matthew!”
When morning came and we were back in school to exchange notes with other parents, it turned out there was a pattern for the previous night’s sleep – Daddies slept well, Mummies did not.
Hunter’s mum decided, “When he goes to NS, I’ll be getting drunk on wine at home.” – the very exact thing that had happened to me the first night you moved out of our bedroom into yours.
That morning, you guys were like celebrities. Parents were standing around with cameras ready to capture that first sighting of you, so we don’t miss out on how differently you looked in just one day – really just expressions of how much we’ve missed you and are absolutely needing to receive you back under our charge (I’m sure your teachers must have felt the same desire but for very different reasons).
I said mournfully to your daddy, “He doesn’t look like he missed us at all. They’re growing up too fast.”
But when you finally did come back into my arms and I asked, “How was camp!!!”, and you replied, “Not good! I want to be home with you!”, I felt … glorious.
There. All is right with my world again. For now, at least.
So your first overnight camp turned out to be a rite of passage not just for you. Us mummies are seeing you boys heading off to NS already. And with every small departure you make from our side, we’re already celebrating, grieving, dwelling in how proud we are of you and fighting not to suffocate under the crushing weight of having to let you all go – all at the same time.
Off you go though to make your merry way into the great, big world out there. I promise to try my best to never hold you back as much as I will never want to let you go. It’s just, I do hope by then you’ll still know that once upon a time, you were our baby and – this, I’m beginning to realise – you always will be no matter how grown you become.