Kindergarten

Each one of us experienced a change this week.

Layla’s first day of kindergarten was my first day back at work to begin a new school year. Zade no longer held his sister’s hand on the sidewalk on their first day back or chased his sister out of the parking lot to get into a school they shared. Kal no longer took Layla to school and had their snug morning routine. And I became a kindergartner alongside my little girl.

I was in junior high school before I rode the bus to school; we’d live close enough for my parents to avoid using the bus. We live close to Layla’s new school now, but she wanted to try to ride the bus; we agreed. My response to my family was that I don’t want her to grow up to be scared of so much like I was, and I decided it starts at this bus, at the cafeteria food line, at new adjustments.

When I put Layla on the bus on Monday, I felt two things with complete certainty: my life is going to speed by after today, and my life will feel very different from now on.

Layla waiting for the bus

Layla waiting for the bus

Layla getting on the bus

Layla getting on the bus

I’ve thought about the nerves associated with the big send off so often this summer, and I think it really comes to down to this idea that sending your child off to kindergarten makes you realize that you’re sending your child off to the public. Going to public school is akin to releasing your child to the public itself.

Kids get back to school gifts from their grandparents. Layla gets a lucky bamboo for her big day.

Kids get back to school gifts from their grandparents. Layla gets a lucky bamboo for her big day.

The night before her first day, I worked to the bone to get everything in order, outfits set, backpacks ready, lunches prepared. I didn’t sleep all night and had vivid dreams of missing Layla’s bus or being late to work. Layla curled around my arm as she gave out her first morning stretch when I woke her up, and it was sailing from there. We walked to her bus stop and waited. She was excited, and it made me so happy to see her this way. I felt strong because she was strong. When she walked on the bus and couldn’t see me anymore, I experienced the rite of passage, the trembling chin and what follows. I cried that moment for the new, for the old, and for me. My life was speeding up alongside the beginning of my daughter’s.

Coming home after the first day

Coming home after the first day

After Layla’s first day of kindergarten, she told me casually that her teacher’s eyes looked weird; she didn’t get to pick what she wanted in the lunch line and got strange Salisbury steak on her plate; and she was “shivering” in the classroom because it was so cold. I listened to my five-year-old’s observations and filtered them through an adult’s ear, of course. I stretched back and forth, reminding myself that I’d packed her lunch every day until she made the choice to try something new, that her teacher had her hands full with a new class, and that I, too, keep my classroom cold as ice.

Learning to adapt comes from small unexpected situations.

By the middle of the week, I noticed that when she’d walk on the bus, friends she’d made would wave fervently at her and signal for her to sit with them. And by the end of the week, Layla showed her brother around the school during the ice cream social. You’re no longer a guest, a newcomer, when you’re in the shoes of the tour guide.

Layla is adjusting as kids do, and so is Zade, who struggled the first few days without his companion.

I’m reliving some of those early nerves as I step into new shoes as well: the PTA/room mom role (who knew how much work that entails?). I sat in the school’s Media Center on small little chairs and felt I stepped back in time. I looked around and saw new faces, but some of those faces knew more than me and had more experiences than I did. It’s very strange to feel like you too are a kind of kindergartner, stepping up to a new place and figuring your way through it. You know you’re an adult, but you’re in the setting you left long ago.

A week before her big day, I wrote both the kids cards and sealed them up for later, a practice I do occasionally. The last paragraph of Layla’s letter comforted me the most because I couldn’t say these things to her now, but I needed to get them out for myself:

I feel both strong and excited for your first year in big-girl school. Underneath it, I’m anxious and want to protect you from any moment that can cause you any pause or discomfort. I look back at my own childhood, a sweet one, and I know even I had many moments in school I wouldn’t care to relive again. My biggest comfort, though, is that I know they have made up the person I am today; the entire group of moments. I pray and hope that the people in your life will find you as remarkable and special as I find you, my sweet love. I pray this world appreciates your giving heart and your thirst for knowledge. You’re my moon and my sunshine, my love. This is the most permanent feeling of my life.

Layla and Zade hugging

We’re going through this change together, baby girl.

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