For me, today was the day mothers know to be a bit….emotional. My first born baby started Kindergarten. This is the day when you realize that all the work you’ve done throughout the last five years comes to fruition. Your work isn’t done by a long shot, but the roots have taken hold, and how you have to let your little tree grow.
My daughter has been excited about going to Kindergarten for quite a while. She didn’t really understand what it meant to go to Kindergarten, just that it was an important thing she’d do as a big kid, and she’d get to ride a yellow school bus to get there. The day I took her to the “Kindergarten Round Up” last May so she could see a classroom and I could collect some of the mounds of information the parents of a gradeschooler must possess, she excitedly exhaled a “YEEESSSS!!! I’ve been waiting for this!” She was excited, and I was excited for her.
As the pool days of summer were all starting to blur together and the first day of school was looming, I was becoming more anxious. There are a lot of things I want to keep track of, what the PTA is doing, where I need to be, where my child needs to be, what school supplies I need to purchase, etc. But I was also anxious because my Kindergarten experience, while mostly positive, was colored by a deep anxiety I felt at being away from my mom. I was always filled with worry that I had forgotten something important or missed a key instruction that I desperately needed. I took grade school quite seriously, and still, as an adult, have nightmares about forgetting things in school. Being inside a grade school again for my daughter started churning those old memories and anxieties. And then I looked at her, my beautiful daughter, and I saw none of those worries mirrored back at me. Instead I saw excitement at meeting new friends and learning new things. I was in awe.
I mentioned to a friend of mine what I was feeling, and she asked me if I had expressed to my daughter how impressed I was with her bravery. I realized I had not, and I decided to have a talk with her. It turned out to be the best conversation we’ve had thus far in her little life. I sat her down and told her how proud I was of her that she was so brave and excited about school.
“Well,” she said. “You know, I am a little nervous.”
“Are you nervous about taking the bus to school or about doing schoolwork?” I asked.
“I’m nervous about schoolwork,” she replied.
“It’s ok to be nervous about that, but you know, Daddy and I will help you with your schoolwork, so it will be ok.”
“Was schoolwork hard for you when you were a kid, Momma?”
I had a momentary panic. I didn’t want to diminish her feelings, but the truth was, it wasn’t. I didn’t struggle with academics until my brain smacked into the wall that is Calculus my senior year of high school.
“Well,” I said slowly. “No, I guess I didn’t. Schoolwork wasn’t hard for me, but you know what was harder for me? Talking to other kids and making new friends. I was always really nervous about that.”
I smiled inwardly at my recovery…an honest answer that didn’t put her down.
“If you had different parents,” she said after a moment’s thought, “and we were kids together, I would help you make friends.”
I smiled. A big smile. “Well, you know, there will be other kids in your class that feel nervous about talking to the other kids. Maybe you can help them make friends.”
“I will,” she said triumphantly. “I know how to make friends. You just go up and say, ‘Hi, my name is ______ _______. What’s your name? Want to be my friend?”
I hugged her. It was a proud moment for me. She is braver than I am.
Today, more than a week after that conversation, we stood at the bus stop ready for her to board. She had been so excited during breakfast, while I did her hair, when I took her picture with the “1st day of Kindergarten” sign so I could post it on Facebook. I was fussing with her backpack when she suddenly looked up at me with big eyes, and said, “Momma, I’m scared.” Her lip bottom lip pouted out and tiny tears squeezed from her eyes. I bent down to hold her. “I want to stay with you,” she whimpered. My heart hurt a little. I want you to stay with me too, I thought. Forever.
“It’s ok to be scared,” I eventually said. “Everyone is scared their first day. But you know how you also feel excited? Try to focus on that feeling.”
She nodded, and her tears dried up. Her eyes were still wide, and I knew she was still anxious. A 2nd grade neighbor arrived, and she offered to sit on the bus with my daughter and make sure she found her teacher when they arrived at school. My daughter stood a little straighter, holding hands with this girl as they stood in line to board the bus. And then, despite her wide eyes, my little love climbed up onto that bus, sat where the bus driver instructed, and waved goodbye to me. Off she went, to her first day of school. I climbed off that bus, and I burst into tears.
Most moms will know what I felt in that moment, that mixture of pride and sadness. My husband was there with me, and he, holding our three year old, walked me back down the street to our house. The friendly 2nd grader’s mom put a hand on my shoulder. She knew what my husband and I knew, that today, we hit a milestone. For my daughter, it was a big, exciting, kind of scary adventure. But for us, it was the end of an era. The baby era, bringing her home from the hospital, long nights, bottles, baby food, rolling over, crawling, diapers, oh so many diapers, walking, running, sippy cups, coloring, playing, a big girl bed, potty training, preschool, letters, numbers, martial arts classes, soccer, singing, swimming. It was a slow transition from baby to kid, but this day, today, marked the point of no return. She would never be baby again.
I would have to say, I took today like I take most big milestones of change in my life… like a giant sack of anxiety and worry. But my daughter, took it like a champ. She admitted her fears, but she faced them. I don’t really know what they did at Kindergarten today, but I know it was “awesome” and her teacher is “super, super nice.” And I know that my daughter is braver than I am.