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What Makes a Grown Man Cry? The Drop-Off.

Fun fact that nobody tells you before you have children: Your parenting style probably has a direct correlation to your own childhood baggage. That’s a complicated little minefield to contemplate, isn’t it?

For instance, I admittedly have deep-seated abandonment issues. But thanks to a stable marriage, maturity, and some tricks I learned along the way from therapy, I’ve grown into a pretty buoyant, confident adult.

And then I dropped my precious little baby love off at “big-girl school” for the first time.... and all the shrink chats and mantra-chanting and self-help gobbledygook crumbled into a thousand little useless pieces.

We were lucky at first. Little E’s neighborhood school for 2-year-olds was just two blocks away. Curriculum consisted mostly of finger painting, tag, games, and drum circles. Teachers loved my baby girl, the younger kids adored her—she was living out a life of happy rainbows and unicorn parades.

Then she turned 3, and her world came tumbling down faster than a Lego tower. After her birthday, Little E transitioned to the “big-girl school,” an actual brick building with classrooms and cubbies and security codes. She would be one of the youngest kids there, and all the teachers and children and activities would be new to her—and quite a bit more challenging.

Did you like playing chase all day with your friends? Well, wait until you get a load of our Spanish immersion program. It’s just like that, except way less fun.

It did not sit well with her.

She cried. She wailed. She begged me to take her back to her old school. She called out to me, arms outstretched, eyes wide and wet. Every day I wilted from the inside and felt it likely that I was the worst person to ever attempt to parent a child. It got so bad that at one point I had her teachers sending me reassuring texts just to let me know she was okay, that she wasn’t barricaded in the bathroom planning a breakout.

As ever, she was fine. Eventually. And yet I felt on some karmic level I was damaging her. Maybe she was learning that, when stuff got rough, dear ol’ dad wouldn’t be around for her. After years submerged, my own issues of abandonment were floating to the surface and undermining my abilities as a dad.

Gradually the drop-offs have gotten better. Tears have become manageable sadness, which downgraded to pouting and nervousness and, lately, pantomime. Just the other day she was repeating her reasons for not wanting to go to her new school, but this time she was laughing, a bad actor playing a role in which she’s forgotten the lines.

It’s still tough to leave her, though. There are days where I peek around the corner to steal a final glance, or position myself to see her through the windows of the administrative office. But I somehow manage to push myself out the door, confident that she will be fine, that I will be fine. And then I count the hours until I pick her up.

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