Kindergarten. To be honest with you I’m not sure how it is that we got here, but here we are. Somewhere in between counting ounces and inches, among memories that are somehow both quiet and loud- we've reached the land of five and a half. Backpacks and folders and permission slips and notes in lunch boxes. Tantrums and dance parties and “you never let me do anything fun” and “you’ll always be my best friend, Mama”.
My mind keeps reaching back to places that are dangerous to go to with my wounded heart. As I drag you out of bed (not an exaggeration) in the mornings, I am reminded of the sleepy way your delightfully chubby toddler arms would tightly grasp my neck, the sweet smell of your tiny sweaty curls tickling my nose. While I dutifully cut the crust off of your sunbutter and jelly sandwiches and slide goldfish into princess themed zip lock bags, I’m transported back to weekend mornings filled with baby-food making. Painstakingly peeling and chopping and boiling organic fruits and vegetables and proudly stacking our store in the freezer. And subsequently becoming hysterical when your father would allow you to lick the flavor dust off of Doritos. When I stand in the steam filled bathroom, my lack of patience apparent in my tapping foot, as the sound of the shower drowns out my tired voice encouraging you to wash EVERYWHERE (including your smelly feet) I can’t help but remember trying to figure out how to balance your tiny slippery body in the water. Or your contagious joy when you discovered splashing and how I let you splash so much that there was more water outside of the bathtub than in it. As I watch you running around at soccer practice, shouting encouragement to teammates and occasionally tripping over your own feet, I think of how desperate I was for you to start walking. How I was convinced that you knew how and simply preferred to be carried- and how you proved this to me but taking your first steps, straight across a crowded room, because you wanted something and I wasn't paying attention to your insistent tugs on my pant leg.
You cried on your first day of kindergarten (because just when I think I have you figured out, you like to throw me a curve ball) and as emotional as I was on that first day, it wasn't until that Friday- when you didn't even glance backwards at me as you ran into the classroom- that I dissolved into hysterical, full bodied sobs.
You love school. Your teacher describes you as wickedly smart, always among the first eager to answer questions at “morning meeting”. You shout hellos and goodbyes in the pick up line, addressing each new friend by name and providing me some unique little tidbit (“She has a princess lunchbox and glittery shoes and a baby brother, Mama”). You are better than I ever could have dreamed.
But there’s one “friend”. One little girl who sneaks her way into our afternoon debriefing sessions, her words and actions peppering our chats during the drive home. The little girl who once told you to “stay away from her family” and that you were “the meanest friend she’s ever seen”. Who kicked your brand new boots the first day your wore them and taught you to say “OMG” (I actually shuddered in disgust the first time I heard this) I know exactly who she is and (like the very mature adult I am) ignore her when she tries to talk to me when I pick you up at your after school program and just only barely suppress my desire to scream vile things at her. I’ve consulted with every mom friend in my arsenal, tried to give you the right words to say and even spoken with your teacher. You don’t seem particularly phased by any of it, wanting only to be her friend- which truly, makes it feel worse. This entire situation is excruciating to me because hello- that’s my heart walking around out there.
I’m terrified that school will bleed the affection and lightness out of you. I worry that by spending my energy instilling the importance of kindness and empathy that I've neglected to give you the skills that you will undoubtedly need to stand up for yourself. I don’t know how to teach you that you don’t need to be everyone's friend, to make you understand that not everyone in your universe is going to like you and that’s OK. It seems like an awful thing to discuss with a five year old. I’m not sure that at 27 I even have it entirely figured out for myself.
An open and empathetic heart comes with disappointments and heartache. I can envision this for you and suddenly understand why seemingly rational people chose to home school, wanting to instantly engulf your tiny body in bubble wrap and steel you against any and all hurts- physical or otherwise.
I could teach you to be unkind, to match this girl word for word. I could try to teach you to not care about others, could focus your path to be one that is strictly self-serving. But that would be hugely unfair to who you have already become. I love your kindness (and your super sassy new boots, no matter who purposefully steps on them) and am most proud of the way you instinctively know when other people are struggling and are always determined to make it better.
You will hurt in this life and people will be mean. Nothing I can do will change that. I’m learning (slowly) to embrace this new phase of parenting, one where you have a life that is wholly separate from mine, where for 8 hours a day you get to be a part of something that I’m not invited to.I'm swallowing my cynicism and bitterness and trying not to let you know that this is only the beginning of people being rotten and awful. I'm avoiding telling you that your life will never be any easier or simpler or more beautiful than it is in this exact moment and trying to embrace this easy joy instead.
We’ll meet these new milestones the same way we did all the others- fairly clueless (with me cloaking my terror in exaggerated impatience) but together. And one day, when I’m listening to you cry over your first boyfriend or argue with your best friend, I’m sure I’ll find myself once again brimming with nostalgia for that first snotty little girl and how I was sure I could fix it all, just by stomping all over her shoes too.