This morning I left my almost two-year-old son with virtual strangers. True, they are paid professionals who are experts in toddler care. True, I’ve met them a total of three times, and they seem like warm, nurturing, careful women. True I’m paying the institution they work for to care for and educate all three of my children. None of this made Noah’s first day of daycare seem any less surreal.

He was a champ. He’d already had two classroom visits, one of them as recently as yesterday, so he got down to playing in the empty classroom straight away. His teachers arrived, and though he wasn’t necessarily thrilled to see them, he didn’t resist them either. Soon a couple of kids arrived too – one poor little dude who was really distressed. Noah regarded these new kids carefully, and then decided on bemused mild interest, at least in the distraught kid who my little angel laughed at. By this point he was totally lost in a menagerie of tiny plastic animals he discovered in an unassuming cardboard box, which he pried the lid off by himself thank you very much.

There was nothing to do but quietly slip away. My husband used the phrase “when you’re ready” as we quietly tried to decide on our departure strategy, but there really isn’t a point when I’ll feel ready to leave my little fella behind. I knew that a quiet and easy exit was the only way I could actually remove myself willingly from the building so I gave him a gentle little kiss on the top of his head, in that wonderful little hurricane eye where his hair swirls in a perfect sandy cloud. He barely seemed to notice, and then I was in the hallway, silently shedding tears.

Wasn’t it just moments ago that I was marvelling over the wonder of his perfect little fingers? How is he so big that he’s struggling to make sentences, demanding to do everything himself, and outraged by the indignity of a diaper change? How can it be that he’s able to move through his own day, doing his own things, without me by his side?

The pain and beauty of the exquisite feeling of setting him free to begin to discover who he is defies any words I have. My heart is in my throat, and I feel terrified by the possibilities of the world I’ve cast him into. We brought him here because we have love and hope in abundance, and now he is gone from under my wing. He is ready to venture out, little steps at a time. I’m not ready to let him, but I force myself to let go because that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Go forth and be amazing my little man. Mommy will try to get her shit together and make productive use of this day. I may even try to have some fun of my own. Make friends, learn about the world beyond our bubble, begin to trust people we barely know because you have to. We all have to build that trust and have that faith that as we totter out into the big wide someone will always be there to guide us and keep us safe. Like your wonderful teacher, who folded me up in a big hug and let me have a little cry.

Jesus H. 3:00 can’t come soon enough.