From kindergarten to 5th grade graduation: Bittersweet tears as the years fly by

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The News & Observer on Aug. 13, 2013, when Jackson Giglio was 5 and heading to his kindergarten assessment at Washington Elementary. On Tuesday, Jackson, who’s now 11, graduates from elementary school.

My baby is leaving me.

OK, he’s going to kindergarten, but it feels like he’s leaving, growing up way too fast. I’m not sure how to handle it.

There will be tears. Mostly mine. I cried when I dropped my oldest son off for kindergarten three years ago. My anxiety about that milestone was tempered by the fact that I had another son at home - until this fall.

Because Wake County staggers the entry of its kindergartners, I get an extra week with my youngest before the school year officially starts.

Come Tuesday, though, summer vacation will be replaced with an empty, quiet house. Both of my kids will finally be in school full time, and I’ll be left trying to figure out where the time went.

The five years that separate birth and kindergarten sure don’t last very long.

I’m going to miss Jackson in the morning asking for a snack. I’m going to miss going to the pool and going bowling. I’m going to miss having a little buddy to run errands with me. I’m even going to miss SpongeBob’s hideously annoying laugh in the background while I try to work.

‘It doesn’t last long’

When you become a parent, you have no idea how quickly the milestones come and go. When my oldest son, James, was born in 2005, a friend told me, “Enjoy this time. It doesn’t last long.”

At the time, I was sure my friend was wrong. Those first three months of motherhood lasted forever. The 3 a.m. feedings, dirty diapers and exhaustion were a cycle that seemed to never end.

I was worn out by three years of parenthood and a full-time job when Jackson was born in 2008. To cope, I lived on pots of coffee and traded sleep - about three hours a night - for sanity. I don’t know how I survived.

But as hard and blurry as they seemed, those days were great - some of the best. I didn’t want them to end.

But they did.

The kids have gotten older and easier along the way. They’re self-sufficient, help out around the house and sleep through the night. Every mother’s dream.

Milestones ahead

And as sad as I am that they are growing up, I look forward to the milestones left to come - the braces, first dates, college applications and driver’s licenses. I’m also secretly looking forward to having some time to do things like run errands and work without having to stop what I’m doing because someone needs a snack. And for that, I feel guilty.

I have always looked at parenthood as an 18-year phase. That’s how much time I figured I’d get with my boys before they started their own lives. One day soon, these kids won’t be interested in sitting in my lap, hugging me or hanging out with their boring ol’ mom. I remind myself of that each time they want my attention and I’m too busy or tired to give it.

I tell my kids I love them every day. I try to remember the smell of their hair when I hug them. I get choked up when they make me proud. I help them with their pajamas, play hide-and-seek, tuck them in at night and hold their hands whenever I get the chance.

I get excited over the fleeting phases of the Tooth Fairy, trick-or-treating and Easter egg hunts, and I hope Jackson won’t give up these things when his big brother does.

I take thousands of pictures of these kids and these moments, trying not to forget a thing.

These first eight years boil down to this weekend, the last time I’ll have my baby home before he’s off to start his life. We’ll do the usual - have snacks, go to the pool, go bowling and watch SpongeBob.

And I’ll enjoy the time, knowing that the next eight years will go by even faster than the first.

Tuesday will be hard. And I’ll be sad. But when this house starts to feel too empty and quiet, I might just call on SpongeBob to keep me company.

Jessaca Giglio is the Assistant Sports Editor at The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Since starting at The N&O in 1994, she’s also been an Assistant Design Editor, retail columnist, Shop Talk (small business) Editor and Assistant Metro Editor.