To my son, on the eve of his first day of kindergarten (by Ali Chandra)

Photo of a smiling little boy standing in front of greenery holding a handmade “Class of 2032” sign.

Photo of a smiling little boy standing in front of greenery holding a handmade “Class of 2032” sign.

I never thought I’d get to write this to you, and so I’m not sure quite what to say. You start kindergarten tomorrow, your first day of school, and in a life filled with so many firsts we never expected, this one looms large. It feels significant, heavier, somehow, than things that should logically carry far more weight. First laugh. First words. First open heart surgery. First time on bypass. First frantic run through hospital hallways to make sure you hadn’t suffered a massive stroke. All of that, and this is the one that’s bringing me to my knees.

First day of kindergarten.

Since the day we found out that your heart had formed so uniquely, that your organs were scattered like leaves in the wind, I steeled myself against the worst. I knew I’d see you covered in bandages, tethered to machines that would keep you alive when your tiny body wasn’t strong enough on its own, and so I rearranged the furniture in my dreams to fit into a much smaller space. Instead of college, I quietly, carefully let myself hope that you’d take a step one day. Instead of a driver’s license, I let myself look ahead as far as your first birthday, maybe. I couldn’t bring myself to take the tags off your pajamas until you’d actually grown into them, so there’s no way I was planning your outfit for the first day of school.

That outfit, the monster shoes and the dinosaur backpack with the extra t-rex patch and the shirt that proudly proclaims that you are writing your own story? It’s laid out carefully, waiting for tomorrow, and I’m sitting here wondering how you’ve come so far, wondering how I can possibly fit everything I want you to know into this black and white when my own heart is bursting with a thousand colors.

You are strong. Your heart has seen the light of day four times now, stopped twice for hours on end and started up again to power you farther and faster than we ever believed possible. Remember after your last surgery, when you realized you could run without getting tired and you took off down the boardwalk, arms outstretched, screaming that you were Superman? That’s the strength I want you to carry with you while you head into that school tomorrow.

You are kind. This, more than anything, is the measure of the man I’m starting to let myself hope you’ll be one day. You know what it means to hurt, so make sure you keep your eyes open for kids around you who might be hurting. You know how it feels to need someone to speak up for you, so now it’s your turn to use your voice to speak up for the vulnerable.

You are brave. I don’t mean you’re never scared; that’s not real brave. You’re the kind of brave that’s faced the darkest fears and held tight to my hand while you stared them down. You’ll have to let go of my hand tomorrow, but just remember that you know how to look fear in the eye and come out the other side. You’ve done it before. You can do it again.

I’ll be waiting for you at the end of the day, at the end of every single day from now until forever.

Happy first day of kindergarten, Ethan. You’re my favorite reason to hope.


Reposted with permission of the author, Ali Chandra, from Hope for Ethan

Laura Hatcher