This morning, my daughter had everything ready to go. She picked out the perfect dress (garnet and lace — just the right amount of style and comfort). She selected her comfort shoes (sparkly gold with a pink bow and light-up rhinestones). She packed her brand new Minnie Mouse backpack. She put the “ready confetti” from her teacher under her pillow. She wrote her letters carefully in chalk on her “first day” board. Unable to contain her excitement, she dragged her chalkboards and backpack outside well before our family was ready to leave. I was inside wrangling her little brother into clothes when she called inside to me: “Mommy, it’s time to take my first day of Kindergarten pictures! Get out here!”
I came out to see that my newly minted Kindergartner had carefully set up a photo shoot on the front porch steps. She had arranged her “first day chalkboards” and her backpack just so. As soon as I got out my phone, she struck a pose, then another, and another. I clicked and clicked, making sure to capture every last moment.
When we were done, my daughter declared: “Okay, I’m ready. Can we go now?”
I breathed deeply: she’s actually ready. For months now, we’ve been worried as the first day of school approached. Our daughter has been very nervous about kindergarten. For the last 5 years, she’s gone to the same daycare with the same rooms, the same teachers, and the same friends. Everything was changing and she wasn’t happy about it. Any time we brought up Kindergarten, she hid her head and told us, “Stop talking about it.”
Transitions are hard, so we’ve been doing what we can to help ease the shift to a new school, a new teacher, and new friends. Even with all the preparation, I expected Susannah to be scared and nervous for her first day. Yet, as we walked up to the elementary school, we heard music playing, saw balloons waving, and even spotted Spiderman on the roof! (Yes, our school is awesome). Susannah lit up when she saw her PreK friends. When we spotted her teacher, she basically ran into school, hand and hand with her new teacher and side by side her friends.
My husband and I watched her go, amazed and delighted … and, let’s face it, dying a little inside. A parent beside us said, “It’s a good day, the only tears were mine.” She summed up how we all felt – how every parent feels dropping their baby off at school for the first time. For my part, I held it together until we got home. That’s when I got the genius idea of looking through her baby book. As I flipped the pages, tears streamed down my face. How was this little baby old enough for Kindergarten? It was just the other day when we brought this tiny baby home from the hospital, right?
I remember that first night so clearly. My husband and I were 35 and 36 years old — AKA full-fledged adults. Yet, as we put this tiny little life into a car seat, we couldn’t believe the hospital allowed us to go home with a newborn. How were we just supposed to keep a baby alive without proper training and certificates? As we placed her 8lb 5oz body in the seat and strapped her in, we realized a great truth: we knew nothing about parenting, or babies, or life itself.
Later that evening, that precious little baby wouldn’t stop crying. She wouldn’t be swaddled, fed, rocked, or pacified. She was crying so much she turned a terrifying purplish red color. Was she breathing right? Did we need to go back to the hospital? Did we break the baby? Frantically, we called the number our pediatrician said to call anytime. The voicemail directed us to the after-hours number, which led to a call service, who took our information and promised a nurse would call ASAP. We waited the longest 10 minutes of our life before the nurse called back. Of course, by that time, Susannah had stopped crying and was cooing. The nurse began the phone call with: “First night home, huh? You’re doing great, I promise.”
From that moment on, we realized the great truth of our parenting journey: our kids were almost always just fine. Us? Not so much.
Over the last 5 1/2 years, this precocious, smart, kind, loving child has taught me more than I can possibly imagine. We grow together up every day.
On that first night home, baby Susannah just needed a good cry. This has been true for all her life up until this very evening when she got overwhelmed, ran into the other room, hid behind the pantry, and cried until she calmed down. Then she came back out, gave us hugs, and felt better. Sometimes we all need a good solid, cleansing cry. Which is exactly why I let the tears go as I flipped through the baby book. I cried happy tears, mourning my daughter’s babyhood and celebrating her new era as a school aged child
I was talking about the passage of time with a friend the other day. Her daughter just turned 13. With both our children starting a new life stage, I observed: “It’s an awe-some, yet cruel, job that God gives us. God gifts us these children to love and raise, and if we do the job right, they leave us and make their own life.” The Teacher of Ecclesiastes muses on this conundrum when he writes, “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecc.3:11). Which means, we live within the mystery of God’s time every day, as it marches on with or without our input.
Time is relentlessly persistent. Day after day after day. Year after year after year. The older we get, the faster time goes. For children, last month was a long time ago. For adults, last decade was a short time ago. We all experience time differently. And yet, we can physically see the passage of time by watching the children we love grow taller each day. Babies become toddlers overnight and the next day they’re off to kindergarten. Just the other day, my friend’s daughter started kindergarten and now she’s a teenager. Soon enough both little girls will be adults, leaving us, and making a life of their own.
Lori McKenna beautifully states the persistence of time in her song, “People Get Old” (which happens to be my go-to song for a good cleansing cry). Listen to the full song here. The song ends:
“When you twirl your kids in your arms
Before you know, it won’t take too long
They’ll be runnin’ off makin’ a life just like you did
Houses need paint, winters bring snow
Nothin’ says ‘love’ like a band of gold
Babies grow up and houses get sold
And that’s how it goes
Time is a thief, pain is a gift
The past is the past, it is what it is
Every line on your face tells a story somebody knows
That’s just how it goes
You live long enough, the people you love get old”
Perhaps those lyrics are tad too on the nose; yet, they touch my heart every time. The newest line on my face is a story that you now know — a line marking my oldest child’s first day of kindergarten. There will be many, many more before this whole thing is done.
This afternoon, my daughter came home from kindergarten, triumphant. She held her hands up in victory and said: “Kindergarten is AWESOME! I wanna go back right now!”
Once again, the only tears today, were mine.
Reference: McKenna, Lori. “People Get Old” The Tree. 2018. CN Records