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FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN TUGS AT A MOTHER'S HEARTSTRINGS

I promised myself I wouldn't do it. I wasn't going to cry.

Never mind that I cried harder than she did in the pediatrician's office when she got her first shot. Or that I secretly sobbed in the privacy of my Escort station wagon that first foggy morning she was dropped off at day care.

But I did cry -- surprisingly hard. But it wasn't until I turned away from her face innocently pinned against the bus window with the excited trepidation of a 5-year-old that I actually reeled out of control.

While the pain spilled over and I let the tears rip, I entered a place I had only heard about up until now. It is a place mothers go when they send their child off to kindergarten for the first time, to be swallowed up by a system designed not only to teach, but to toughen.

I was in mourning.

I mourned the inevitable loss of her natural tendency to perceive the world as safe, secure and loving as she headed out to survive amongst hundreds of out-of-control, immature and selfish egos -- both big and little, young and old.

I mourned the sense of fear and powerlessness destined to descend upon her and her classmates as they learn about pollution, overpopulation, the disappearing ozone layer, global warming, AIDS, disease and death.

I mourned the assurance with which she would learn the lie that popularity and prettiness are more important than kindness and compassion, that rich is better than right, and that developing friendships sometimes means deserting others less accepted.

My heart ached as I came to realize that, away from the comforting cocoon of home, she will learn to think and react in terms of competition, limitation, struggle, guilt, bad, scarcity and loss. She'll learn to understand that, in society's view, she'll never be good enough the way she is.

From this day on, rather than being motivated by her heart's desire, she'll be driven by the fluctuating expectations of others. Rather than feeling comfortable with who she is, she'll say and do things to fit in and measure up, while making sure others don't see that she might feel down.

She'll taste the bitterness of insecurity, jealousy and embarrassment. She'll learn desire and fear. And because I'm her mother, I'll taste it too.

But, as the salty taste of tears burns my early-morning mouth, I'm forced to think that perhaps it's not her pain and loss of innocence I mourn -- maybe it's mine.

Maybe it's the pain of releasing her into the big wide world that has sent my emotions whirling. Or perhaps it is a self-centered sense of powerlessness as I swallow the realization that I'll no longer be the center of her universe that makes me feel so deeply saddened.

Whatever it is that makes my eyes -- and every other mother's eyes -- well up with tears as we watch our children board the bus, of only one thing I'm sure.

This is just one of the many times throughout my life when I'll take her lead and bravely go forth to accept my new role, whatever it may be. I will resolutely face the unknown with summoned courage, a smile and an inner trust that she will adjust and perhaps even thrive.

And so will I.

KRISTINA SYRACUSE is a free-lance writer living in Williamsville.

For writer guidelines for columns, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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