I’ve been counting down the years, watching them turn into months. Always keeping my eye on the proverbial clock that’s been ticking away since she was born. And now, according to the colorful paper chain hanging on her wall, I’m down to a matter of mere days. Hours, really, until my house will be quieter than usual during the day.
Hours left before our family dog can take her mid-morning nap without fear of being snatched up by little hands. Until I can clean the house without asking anyone to lift up their feet while I vacuum the floor beneath them. Until the toys are stowed away in their bins for hours on end, feeling lonely and nearly forgotten.
Kindergarten Is Calling
I’ve had a built-in buddy system for 9 years. But as hard as it was to let my firstborn out of my sight when he started school, she was still next to me, holding my hand. My second born. My last baby. Reading my gaze. Squeezing my legs reassuringly when my lip would quiver and the tears would well up. We’d watch him together through the chain link fence, his little body, all but hidden behind his giant backpack, as he walked across the playground, disappearing into his classroom.
And then I would bend down and kiss her sticky, squishy little cheek, choke back the lump in my throat, and feel grateful that we could hang onto each other until it was time to collect our boy after the last bell. Grateful to be distracted by library story hours and Mommy-and-Me music classes and afternoon naps curled up together on my bed.
But now that it’s her turn, I’m on my own. Left to my own devices while I wait.
I probably sound dramatic, I realize this. It’s just kindergarten.
But It’s All Relative, Right?
I’m reminded of a conversation at a book club gathering, pre-motherhood. As the only member yet to have children, I sat and listened while one mama lamented that the next day she would have to take her daughter to the doctor for her kindergarten booster shots. I was sympathetic, but I didn’t get it. It seemed over-reactive to me. A quick poke or two and a few moments of calming a crying child? Didn’t seem that big a deal.
Until last week, when I had to pin my own daughter down on that table, writhing and snarling like a wild animal in fight-or-flight mode. My smugness from years ago resurfaced and laughed in my face. It felt like a big deal, now. At her last appointment for shots, she was still a toddler. And when the nurse had stuck the band-aids down on her chubby little leg, she smiled compassionately.
“That’s it! No more shots until kindergarten,” she’d said.
And I was relieved, because we had years to go. So where did those years go?
Kindergarten is calling.
She’s a summer baby, so I figured I might have some extra time to keep her home. Plenty of my friends had held off a year for kindergarten, waiting until their children had turned 6. Believe me when I tell you that I’d keep her home an extra year if I could, but it would be totally against her will. She’s always been eager for the next step life has to offer her.
The Water Slide Analogy
Recently, on a family trip to a water park, my daughter decided she wanted to ride every water slide on the premises. After checking the small slides off her list, she set her sights higher. Literally.
Next up was the giant, purple, twisty tube slide. Mainly enclosed, it was only wide enough for one body at a time. And the rules clearly stated that no one below 42” would be allowed to ride. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach as I realized her height was no longer a deterrent. And despite the fact that it was several stories tall, she was hell-bent on riding it.
Up we climbed, following the fearless one as she led the way. I alternated shooting daggers at my husband for encouraging the feat, and subtly trying to talk my daughter out of it altogether.
“It’s a long walk all the way up there.”
“Remember, you’ll have to ride it alone, I can’t go with you.”
“If you change your mind at the top, it’s no problem, I’ll walk back down with you.”
No Turning Back
But she marched right along, like she hadn’t heard a word I’d said. At the top, I assessed the line of kids in front of us and behind us. Everyone was bigger than she was. Surely the lifeguard would let her down easy. Tell her she was still too little to ride.
Except the lifeguard barely glanced in our direction. Nothing out of the norm to see here, apparently. Just a tiny girl sandwiched between her parents, watching with glee as her brother took off down the slide. And whether or not she could see the pleading in my eyes from behind her sunglasses, that lifeguard didn’t pick up on the silent cues I was flinging in her direction.
I was forced to go down before her. Probably so I didn’t chicken out and make a run for it outside of my husband’s watchful eye. As soon as I was off the slide, I paced at the bottom, fighting the urge to throw up. She was going to be afraid in the dark tunnel. That drop at the end was way too steep. I braced myself for the tears.
And then her little body rocketed out with a splash. She sat up, wiped the water out of her eyes, laughed, and said, “That was awesome!”
Let Her Go
The point of these stories, disjointed though they seem, is that my girl is big enough, tall enough, ready enough, for the next step.
Kindergarten is calling.
I’m not ready for it, but she is. In a matter of days, she’ll be tearing the last link off of her paper chain. I’ll be tucking her into bed knowing that tomorrow, instead of sending her down a slide that seems much too big for her, I’ll be sending her out into a world that seems much too big for her.
I’ll want to talk her out of it but I won’t. It’s not my job to hold her back. It’s my job to cheer her on. To make room for her joy even if it feels bittersweet. It’s the first of many. But as I send her off into that big world, watching her through the chain link fence, backpack overpowering her small frame, I’ll be reminded of her fearlessness. And I’ll draw my strength from her courage.
Because Kindergarten has come calling, and what a blessing. For her, for me, and for the world she’ll shape along the way.
So while I wait at home, itching to pick her up and hear about her day, I’ll be alone but I’ll know it’s for the best. I’ll spend the morning flipping through the baby books, wistfully wiping up fingerprints leftover from breakfast, and probably watching some mindless reality TV show or other. But come lunchtime, the dog and I are staking out a spot in the school parking lot. Who else will spy to make sure she’s finding friends on the playground? Motherhood’s a hard job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
For another perspective, check out The First Time Kindergarten Mama: A New Season in Motherhood by Jaime Jo Freeman
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.