In a couple of weeks, my daughter will begin her senior year. Stamped in my mind and on my heart is a picture of her decked out in pink from head to toe; smiling from ear to ear; proudly carrying her backpack filled to the brim with fresh school supplies on her first day of kindergarten. She was raised in school. She was only a few weeks old when she attended her first wrestling match. She toddled on the track in the spring and by fall she was learning to walk at the football games. She gazed pie-eyed at the glittery cheerleaders and clapped gleefully at band concerts. Sometimes on the weekend, she would ride her trike up and down the hall outside my office.
So, when it came time for kindergarten, she was filled with excitement for this new adventure. Kindergarten made her one of the big kids. I remember her earnestly checking her understanding with me one morning, “OK. So, it’s kindergarten, then high school, then college. Right mom?” To which I responded, “Uh not quite…. but close enough for now.”
I loved school. By the time my daughter was in kindergarten, I had had 35 first days of school either as a student, teacher or principal. But I was not prepared for this first day of school at all. I remember that I took the morning off, so I could drive her to school. As we drove, she chattered enthusiastically from the back seat – all her questions and thoughts tumbling out in random order. Do my friends go to this school? Where do I eat lunch? I know my numbers, so the teacher doesn’t have to teach me that. Do I have to share my crayons? I have a backpack! What is recess? I can’t wait to have a desk.
Random stuff, earthshakingly critical to a five-year-old. She had (has) such a curious mind. I knew she was ready for kindergarten. She could read. She had strong social skills – emphasis on social. I knew she was ready, though I was constantly wondering if I had done enough to prepare her or made the right parenting decisions. My heart ached because this day signaled the beginning of so many changes. People would be coming in and out of her life. There would be influences beyond my control. Not just classroom learning but life learning was about to start. While I was excited to watch her grow into an adult and experience all the wonderful parts of life, I had worries too. I had seen firsthand how challenging growing up could be even if you had the best possible parent. What if kids were mean to her? What if she was sad or scared or needed me? What if she didn’t like math?!? What if she lost a shoe? Or went to the wrong bus line? Or daydreamed through science? Or talked too much? She is a talker and we love that about her but what if her teacher didn’t love that about her? Random, earthshakingly critical worries of a kindergarten mom.
I put a smile on my face because I thought weeping openly might put a damper on her excitement. If your mom, who is a principal, is crying on the way to kindergarten, that has to be a bad sign right? So, I smiled on the outside. I parked near the classroom. Before I could get around the car, she bounced out of the back seat dragging the backpack behind her. She shrugged it on and grabbed my hand. We walked (well, I walked, and she skipped) to the classroom where pairs of students and their parents were standing. The parents looked around nervously, afraid to make eye contact. I think the general feeling was that seeing someone else who wanted to cry somehow would open the flood gates. The kids took those tentative first steps toward friendship with the awkward ‘hi’ or ‘what’s your name?’ spoken in tiny voices. Finally, the door opened and a petite, curly-haired woman exclaimed “Good morning, boys and girls! Come in.” Some children grabbed their parents’ legs. Others stood stock still. Others took a step then waited unsure. Mine turned to me and smiled. Then turned back to the teacher and took two bouncy steps in her direction. I called her name. She stopped and twirled around. I took a step toward her, but she put up her hand in a wave and said, “I got this, mama.” She smiled and disappeared.
I stood there amongst the leg holders, criers and huggers, and I felt a bit embarrassed. I mean, I just got unceremoniously dismissed by a five-year-old. I wondered if this was a serious problem. Should I have read more books on parenting. Was this evidence of a lack of bonding somehow? Why was my child not clinging to my leg begging me to stay? But then I got a grip on reality and I knew that all this uncertainty was about me. It wasn’t about her. I just wanted to be the best mom I could be. The truth is that she was (and still is) a capable, confident, bold girl. We prepared her for that moment by giving her the tools to be successful. We read to her. We talked about feelings. We helped her learn to solve problems. We played. When she needed us, we were there for her. So that moment was more about my grieving the loss of being needed just a little bit less, than it was about her. She was right when she said, “I got this.” She did. She got it alright.
So here we are twelve years later. On the first day of school, she won’t be covered head to toe in pink. I doubt she will be smiling ear to ear at 0630. She’ll drive herself to school. There won’t be any hand holding. Even though I will worry that there is something I should have done or should have done differently or better, in my heart of hearts I know she’s got this. In case there’s any doubt, I’m going to tell her just that, “You got this!” I might even throw in “Piece of cake!” In the end, she knows we will be right here if she needs us.
I Got This
(1/50 sec., f/3,2, 9.2mm, 400 ISO Cybershot)