This letter will be 13 years old by the time you read it. I just finished folding your laundry. Smoothing over edges and fabric patterns. Picturing you smiling from behind your cute tangle of bedhead in each pair of pajamas; running around in each pair of socks; and in every dress asking me if you can change back into shorts now that we’re home, because “shorts are easier for pretending to be a puppy.” When you read this 13-year-old letter, I may have just washed your laundry one last time before you packed for college, simply to have an excuse once again to picture you in all your clothes, and relive memories that, right now, I can’t even yet imagine.
Maybe I’ll be lucky and you’ll stay at home and commute to college. But you’ve always been independent, and I don’t want to get in the way of your spirit.
I don’t wish to hold you back now, either.
You started kindergarten in your new school two weeks ago. You love it. Even prior to the first day, you pretended to do homework, gleefully. I was directed by you to pretend I was your teacher, and once you received your teacher assignment in the mail I was called by her name.
We had moments of fear and sadness before the first day. When you told me you didn’t know what you would do in a day of kindergarten, I didn’t know the schedule either and felt powerless in my ability to help you. I’m used to having answers or knowing how to get them. By the time you read this I’m sure I’ll have had a lot of practice in feeling powerless and without answers for you.
When we attended parent orientation and left you and Boychild in childcare in the gym, you looked rather brave at first. But when we passed another window into the room and snuck a peek at you, the two of you stood frozen like statues, arms hanging down, looking very scared. A frown crawled across your face and pretty soon I could tell you were bawling. Daddy and I went back in to reassure you because no one else noticed you crying. Girlchild, know that we will always be available for you, to encourage and reassure. Even when you think we don’t see your pain or don’t understand it. Even if no one else sees you or empathizes. I promise you we will be there for you.
You told me then, through tears, “I don’t want you to go! I want to go with you! I just love you so much!” Girlchild, it was so hard to hold myself together, because you could have said that you were afraid or didn’t know anyone, but your words were that you didn’t want to be torn apart from us. You didn’t care that there were other friendly kids around with whom to play. You didn’t care that no one else was crying. I had to choke out, “Please be brave. Only for an hour. We will be right back. Okay?” I worried that this scene would be re-played on the upcoming first day of kindergarten and I found myself overly emotional.
If you are feeling scared and alone and overwhelmed when you read this letter, if college feels like one big empty, echoing gymnasium please be brave. Because, Girlchild, when we came back for you after parent orientation, you smiled through red eyes and came running, and you had had fun, playing games with other kids. You will return home from college, and you will be okay, and you will have had new adventures.
Before the first day of school, I kept wondering if there was any way to keep you home. Did you really need to go to kindergarten? Should you have gone nearby, for a shorter day, rather than the longer commute to the Catholic school and the longer school day? I knew in my heart what the answer was, but I just couldn’t believe we were at that point in time. From my perspective, I was just bringing you home from the maternity ward what felt like yesterday, and snuggling with you on the couch. I’m guessing I’ve told you that the last 13 years have flown by too, but when you’re 18, living with your parents feels like an eternity. I remember.
I didn’t want you to go and sometimes still don’t. I don’t want to not know what you do all day in school, and not have a preschool teacher give me the summary when I pick you up. I don’t want to think about you feeling sad, scared, alone or worried. If someone is mean to you, I want to be there to tell them to stop. I don’t want to miss you all day. I don’t want to wonder where the last years have gone. I don’t want to count down to the next school vacation when I can be around you more. I don’t want to wonder if you really, really, really know just how deeply I’ve always loved you…how I held you in my arms in your rocking chair in your room when you were a week old, long after you were asleep, and listened to you breathe…and vowed through tears that if anyone ever hurt you they would regret it (your Daddy laughed at me and told me I was “probably a little hormonal”, as I would bet he has tried to tell me as you read this and have left for college…. but…read on about your Daddy; he’s softer than you think).
The day before school you told me, “Mama, we never get that much time together.” And somehow, I agree. This year I’ve made a more conscious effort to spend time together with you, without Boychild, and with fewer distractions. It’s been great, but I think it still feels to both of us like not enough. At night I just want to crawl in bed with you and cuddle (and get kicked around a lot and woken up when you talk in your sleep), and not have to wake you up so early so you can go to school. Right now I want you to be 3 years old again, and tell me, “Mama, you’re my BEST friend.”
The night before kindergarten, my confident girl was in bed with the covers up to her nose saying, “I feel shy” after “I go tomorrow? All day? By myself? Ohhh…” I reassured you that everything would be okay, reminded us both of how excited we were for the new school. But as a parent, it’s no fun to reassure when you aren’t 110% assured yourself. I did my best. And as Daddy and I were finishing up reading to you that night, you asked somewhat randomly, “How do you spell goodness?” Daddy left your room after that, and I heard him downstairs sniffling. How do we spell goodness? We spell it with your name.
In the car on the way to school the next day, The Day, it was abnormally quiet. I asked you, “What are you thinking about?” And you answered, “School. I’m gonna miss Boychild.” Without skipping a beat, he said, “My gonna miss you too, Sissy.”
After photo opps outside school, there was just enough time for a very quick nervous hug between you and me, right before you followed your class line inside. Just in time as I was choking up looking at your nervous face. Tears were coming for me and I scooped up Boychild and held him tight, thankful that I still had one more of my beloved kids at home with me, not yet grown enough for kindergarten, and there to keep me company. We watched as you followed your line inside school and didn’t look back. What will I grab for when there is no baby here left?
We were two minutes on our way from school when Boychild said, ”My miss Sissy.” He said it at least twice more that day, and says it at least daily now. Lunches are way too quiet. Lunch on the first day was painfully quiet except for one noise, and Boychild said after laughing, “Oh that was Dogchild. I thought that noise was Sissy.” I wonder when you read this now, how life at home will be without you. Boychild will be 16, and maybe too macho to tell us all how he feels, but I can’t imagine he won’t be hurting. I hope we understand that about him, and I hope you keep in touch with him often. He adores you and looks up to everything you do, and I don’t foresee that changing much.
At the end of your first day, Daddy and I had a thousand questions. You acted like a little lady, so composed, so proper. You seemed peaceful and happy. Boychild acted like he hadn’t seen you in years, and just instantly gave you his new toy when you asked about it. Two days earlier you two had been nearly killing each other over certain toys. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and perhaps the youngest hearts are impacted the fastest.
I’m sure by the time you read this, you’ve had challenges like everyone does. I’m sure you have survived sadness, fear, loneliness, worry and probably even heartbreak. I hope that the damage to your spirit has been minimal, or if not…that your Daddy and I have stepped in and raised hell to defend and protect you.
I’m sure you are one tough cookie. I’m sure you are still the same smiling little social butterfly, the caring little girl who asked others hurt in preschool if they were okay, and ran to console others when they were sad. The one who, once starting kindergarten, consoled a crying boy in your class each day, giving him hugs and telling him to “think about the good things and how great it will be to see your mama when the day is over”, yet broke down yourself a couple of days after school, probably from sheer exhaustion. The one who, at age four, would sit by strangers at the park and strike up conversations, and who, when I asked you to please be careful around strangers, told me, “Hmm. But if I meet them and make them my friend, they won’t be a stranger anymore!”
And I have to remind myself right now as I write this…you are still here. I still have 13 years ahead of me to try to give you as many hugs and kisses as you will tolerate (which, fortunately, right now is an infinite number, which makes my heart overflow). I still have time to listen, teach (as well as learn from you), plan special fun, and show you how much I love you. Come to think of it, by the time you read this I still have more time too…. yes, it will be different now, but we still have many years ahead to make new memories. Years that we can make that transition to mother-daughter friends. Hopefully we have not been enemies, but what I mean is that I hope I can soon transition toward seeing you as the lovely adult woman I’m sure you are. And I am sure you are lovely. I’m sure you are just as sweet, compassionate, creative, smart and driven as you show us right now.
I’ve had to hold my tears together these two weeks and not show you how much I am hurting inside, and I’m guessing at the time you read this it is the same way. If I’ve held back too much…please know it’s only because I didn’t want to upset you, or make you feel like you must console me.
Two things actually have consoled me:
First, if Daddy and I didn’t let go of you, we would be keeping a gift to ourselves instead of sharing you with the world. At the orientation at which you met your teacher for the very first time, she looked tired by the end. You were the last to finish your project and asked your teacher, “Can I give you a hug?” And as you bounced our her door you exclaimed, “I love you!” And then, of course, a week later you shared with me how you consoled the crying boy in your class. You have an amazing gift of spreading joy and compassion.
Second, letting go of you in one respect—sharing you with your new school—has made me realize how grown up you are in other ways and how maybe this “helicopter mom” can hover at a bit higher altitude. If you can handle kindergarten, I figured recently, you could help me crack an egg to add to pancake batter. I showed you how, you did it successfully…and you grinned and exclaimed with pride, “I did it!!” And I wondered, why had I been so afraid of a cracked messy egg?
So the next time I see you, the biggest thing you can do to “console” me, should you feel the need, is to show me how you’ve shared yourself with the world. How you’ve spread your kindness and humor and intelligence, and what new things you’ve had the courage to try. You’ll always be our little girl, taking on the world one kindergarten class at a time.
In Love and Awe,