The year I turned 30, I decided to head off the emotional breakdown I saw coming at me like a train in the distance. I planned trips with friends, they threw me a rockin’ ’80s party and I got in shape. I spent most of the year before my birthday trying to make the day something I wouldn’t dread. It worked for the most part. Recently, I decided to try this approach with my daughter’s entrance into kindergarten.
My daughter is my oldest child. She never stops talking–ever. If I don’t listen, she turns to one of her gaggle of imaginary friends and continues on. When she is not around, it is very noticeable. A month ago, I began to acknowledge that kindergarten might be a little hard on me. However, in the back of my mind I kept thinking I was actually really ready. I knew logically I’d be sad, but I was looking forward to the extra time and since she’d been in preschool for four years I thought I might not struggle that much.
Then last week we attended orientation. The meeting began and with every word that sweet teacher spoke, my breath quickened. Then her words shot into the middle of my heart: “We know they are your babies. They are our babies too, but we never tell them that. We always call them big kids.” I felt weak and nauseous and a little bit crazy. My husband and I went to the car and I sobbed. She’s a big kid. She’s my baby, but she is a big kid and now I have to let her go a little.
That was when I came up with the idea of making a shirt for her first day. It was something special we could do together and a lovely distraction that also allowed us to celebrate this event. I never wanted her to sense my anxiety for fear she would become afraid of going. So, we tie-dyed. We spent an afternoon tie-dyeing shirts for the whole family and then we bought an iron-on fairy pattern and made her a magnificent first day of kindergarten shirt.
Monday morning she sat in front of her mirror brushing her short brown hair for probably 15 minutes. She asked if she should wear a braid or wear it down. Excitement twinkled in her brown eyes and I was so thankful for this enthusiasm. She looked so beautiful in her blue, tie-dyed shirt. I included one accessory. It is a tradition we started at preschool when she didn’t want me to leave. We have a special bracelet that I give her when I leave and she wears it to remind her how very much I love her.
Monday morning we took her to her room and she hung her panda backpack in her little locker. She sat down in her plastic chair and she looked so big. Her little brother had his own breakdown, which I was not prepared for, so Daddy had to take him out. I reached down and slipped the silver bracelet from my wrist onto hers and told her goodbye. She smiled a genuine smile back at me and I quickly walked away. She is ready for this day. I held it together until I got almost to the car and allowed my tears to come as I played a mental slideshow of our best days in my mind.
Making a shirt and all the activities we planned leading up to this day did help, just as my year of pre-30 fun did. In the end, the sadness that comes from both these milestones is really a nostalgic emotion steeped in the awareness of the passage of time. She is my bright little shining light and watching her grow has enriched every part of my being. She is the height of my laughter and the depth of my heart. She is my magical, creative little kindergarten girl.
Photo credit: Dana McCranie