The Hardest Lesson

I noticed the tremble in her lips, the slight crease in her brow. The way her eyes narrowed as she looked down at the ground, fear etched across her face.

Rumbling buses. Big kids. A sea of backpacks.

She walked toward the group out front, hesitated, and turned to look back at me.  Her older brother was suddenly by her side, grabbing onto her hand. He whispered something to her and they both smiled, continuing on their journey together. The tightness in my chest softened.

Breathe. Release.

Goosebumps prickled to the surface, my heart swelled. Her bravery and the sweetness of her big brother soothed my raw, exposed nerves.  Clear-eyed, I watched them vanish behind the bricks.

Not a single tear was shed.

Until the second day of school.

“Mom!” my son said through clenched teeth. “Don’t follow us!”

He slammed the car door shut and off they went, hand in hand, rushing up the sidewalk to school. Without me.

Rush. Rush. Gone.

I sat back down in the front seat. A tear rolled down and then another, a flood out of nowhere. Sharp pangs in my heart pounded, leaving me breathless, the ache only growing stronger as I watched them disappear through the front doors.

Longing–Love.

Holding–Joy.

Releasing–Pain.

Love’s lesson–a miraculous and beautiful burden for the rest of my days.

Kindergarten Daze

Will you hold my hand? Please? Because I don’t think I can do this without you. I am very scared and kinda nervous. It’s a big change. Huge. And I’m not sure I’m gonna like it very much. Will you still be there waiting for me when it’s over? Will you hold my hand at the bus stop? Will everything be okay? Promise me it will. Promise! Pinky-swear!

Okay.  I’m ready.

I think.

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My daughter had her kindergarten screening yesterday. I watched as they snapped her picture, her big hazel eyes watering, her mouth quivering as she was trying to stand up straight and be a big girl. A teacher draped a star-shaped name tag around her neck and guided her off to a room for testing.

Without me.

I sat in my little chair in the hallway with a couple of other parents. All of us thinking the same thing.  I can’t believe it’s time. I’m not ready…I’m not ready…I’m not ready for this!

One of my earliest memories was my own kindergarten screening. It was 1975 and my father brought me. I remember starting to cry and having to take off my glasses the second the teacher asked me to hop across the room. What if I fell down? What if I couldn’t do it?  There were bright lights and big adults with clipboards asking me all kinds of questions, the room was noisy and echoed too much. When I had to walk the balance beam, I think I almost passed out. It was a lot of pressure for a little kid. My dad was great though, he kept smiling at me, giving me little hugs to let me know it would be all right, this big transition into school.

Now I sat at my own daughter’s screening and I wondered if my dad had felt that same terrible tug at his heart as I did now.

As my daughter was led away, I was interviewed by another teacher. She asked me if I was familiar with the school. I told her I had an older son who was in third grade. She put her hand on her heart and smiled at me, “Oh, so this must be your last one?” I could only nod. “Oh! It’s so hard! You will cry, trust me. The moment she gets on that bus, you will cry. I know I bawled when my last one left for school. Now he’s in college, left home and his room is empty.” I sighed, fighting back a tear. This wasn’t helping me any.

After an hour and a half I caught a glimpse of my sweet baby girl, down the hall, sitting stoically next to another boy, twirling her little name tag necklace. I kept willing her to turn around and look at me, so I could wave or smile to let her know I was there.  Look, Julia! Look at mommy! Mommy’s right here! I thought, as I tried to get her attention, waving at her like an idiot, just another sappy parent on the brink of losing it. She turned slightly and saw me, gave me a quick wave then turned back toward the teacher.

And I was left sitting there alone in the hall, trying to sit up straight, not cry and be a big girl.

My first day of kindergarten. My brother is right behind me, trying to look cool and also like he doesn’t know me.