By Gail O'Connor, mom of a sixth-grader, a third-grader, and a toddler; a senior editor at Parents, she lives in Westfield, New Jersey.
This is the year it's going to hit you, with the weight of an orthodontist's bill, that your kid has become a big kid. It might happen like this (as it did to me): You are standing one afternoon in the drugstore aisle with a multipack box of Scooby-Doo Valentines in your hand, mulling, "Do you guys still do these in fifth grade?" And the next minute your fifth-grader casually says, "I already made a valentine for someone." At this point, you'll have to squelch every shocked impulse in your body ("What?! Who?") and try to play it cool. You'll wonder how it's possible that this child of yours has a crush.
From the start of the year, you will get warning signs that adolescence is around the corner. You know it when you find the flyer sent home in his backpack about a tween dance hosted by the rec department. Or when the nurse sends an e-mail politely informing fifth-grade parents that they may want to introduce their child to deodorant if they haven't done so already. Or when your child comes home more confused than ever after the first installment of fifth-grade sex education. (Note: Do. Not. Laugh. When your child asks you to clarify who "the Sea Men" are.)
Suddenly, after years of checking the school folder and packing a lunch box, you're not needed so much anymore. He can make his own lunch. He bikes to school with his friends. He gets things off the top shelf without your help. The only things he seems to want from you now are your Apple password and product for his hair. (Where did he learn the word product?)
And even though you'd gotten tired of the monotony of the school pickup and drop-off routine, a small part of you misses it now that your kiddo walks or bikes there. You almost live for a rainy day when he wants you to take him. If an "I love you, honey!" accidentally escapes your lips as he bounds out of the minivan, don't be hurt when he shoots back an "Are you insane?" death stare. They all do that now.
Fifth grade is the start of "the long goodbye" between childhood and the tumultuous teen years. Everything will take on the bittersweet significance of "last." But you'll know he still does need you, especially when you kiss him good night and he asks if you would lie next to him for a little while. So you curl up beside him and Brown Bear, under the planets hanging from the ceiling, casting their glow on the music posters beginning to paper the walls. You know your child's growing up and away. It's your job to help him get there. But for now you can press your nose to his head, breathe in his product, and think, "Not yet. Not yet."
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Parents magazine.