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When I got my first child ready for kindergarten, I remember feeling overcome with emotion. I was happy, yet also sad that my little boy grew up so quickly. He beamed with pride as we stood at Target, and he picked out his new Superman backpack and a flashy folder with a race car on it. He wanted tied tennis shoes, and a lunch box with a matching water bottle. He was ready, but my mom heart was not.

This month, that tow-haired boy with sparkly green eyes is off to high school. I am less prepared now than I was back then.

His first five years of life went by like nothing, and he was kissing me goodbye at his desk on the first day of school. Then his nine years of grade school were a blink. He is taking a big step now, starting high school — and again, he is ready, but I am hesitant. I know he will do fine, but this is the first natural step in not needing me much anymore. Sure, he’ll need me to drop him off and pick him up, but he’s halfway through 14. That darn 16 is right around the corner, and he will be behind the wheel of a car. I can’t. I just can’t.

Do I want to thwart his growth and maturity? Absolutely not! But I can’t help but be melancholy thinking about what is coming in the next few years. And these are short years — the really quick ones. High school is a moment in time, and then he’s headed into the actual, real world. He might go to college, or he could start a career. I don’t know what he will do. But I know he is still my baby, and I still want him to need me. If only for a minute more.

When it’s your first, I think there is a tiny bit more anxiety and magic than with your subsequent kids. Sure, I cried when my other three went to kindergarten, but my oldest has always overwhelmed me a bit more. He is paving the way for everyone. That is a lot of pressure, but I try not to make him carry the weight of our family on his back. Sometimes I fail … miserably. But thankfully, he gives me a bit of grace here and there. And he likes to be the trailblazer; it makes him feel good to lead the way. I love that about him.

I am sending him out into a brand new world. We had a meeting at school earlier this summer where we met with a faculty member and went over his classes and expectations for him academically. He is a bright guy and has a heavy class load. He is excited about the challenge. My baby isn’t a baby; he is courageous, strong, and ready to take this on head first. I wish I had just an ounce of his courage.

High school is going to be a different experience, one that will stick with him for a lifetime. He will face pressure from his teachers to excel, and pressure from his peers to try new things. I am not naive; he will be exposed to things like drugs and alcohol and sex. I can only pray that I have instilled the right things in his brain and that he will make responsible choices. I think that I have. I hope so.

There will also be fun things like football games, dances, musicals, and after-school clubs. He will get to choose the classes he wants to take and the path he wants to start on. That is the exciting stuff. That is what I am looking forward to most for him — the things that fuel his fire.

Unlike kindergarten, I won’t be walking him into his classroom this time. There will be no proud moments of him showing me his table and cubby. I will leave him in the drop-off line and watch him walk down the long brick pathway and through the doors to what I hope will be four years filled with growth and magic and memories. I will cry, like I always do for this kind of big moment. But I will not allow myself to cry because it is sad. I will cry because I am proud and excited for him, and for what lies ahead. It is exciting, and he is in for the ride of his life. I hope he takes it all in and revels in every moment. I know that I will … even if I’m a little sad at the same time. Because even in high school, he’s still my baby, whether he realizes it or not.

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