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First Days

Today I have felt almost every emotion conceivable, all in a span of about twelve minutes. It is the first day of pre-school for my children. Sigh. Nervousness, anxiety, joy, love … all of the emotions we feel as a parent, but find difficult to put into words—that was today.

Here I am at home, alone (smile), reflecting on their short, beautiful lives. Memories are pulsing through me and it’s hard to sort through them. My daughters are a mere four and three years old and have embarked on the next stage in their lives—school.

The excitement began last night at dinner. I disappeared for a few minutes, came back out, and told them to close their eyes. I smile when I see their smiles in my mind as they closed their eyes while clasping their hands together in excitement. Then— “Surprise!” I said, and they opened their eyes and beamed when they discovered the treats—their very own backpacks. That’s when the emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. They were so appreciative of having their very own simple backpacks filled with a new pair of modest tennis shoes, a box of crayons, and a folder to match (pink in the pink pack and purple in the purple pack) that they beamed and said, “Thank you, Mommy!”

After the try-on session with the backpacks and shoes, they tried out their new crayons and were thrilled when they opened their very own boxes, all by themselves. My oldest daughter then gave me a hug and looking softly in my eyes whispered “Mommy, I made a wish for a backpack, and it came true!” Sigh.

Then, slowly, the new shoes were placed beside the door, backpacks were re-packed, and two little girls went to bed.

The excitement continued to build this morning. My oldest daughter came bounding into my room, backpack in hand, and announced, “It’s pre-school day, Mom!” My youngest came in a few minutes later, and was not quite as happy to be awake. She shed her morning grumpiness much faster than usual, amazingly, when she realized that yes, it was indeed “pre-school day.”

Dresses were put on, barrettes picked out, crisp new shoes put on, backpacks in place, pictures taken, and for the first time, ever I think, the girls were asking me to hurry up—they didn’t want to be late. Sigh.

The drive was rather peaceful. They chattered about school and their backpacks and then we arrived. This was the beginning of the twelve minutes of emotion.

My youngest daughter is sensitive to new situations and was a bit reluctant to go into her classroom. I pointed out her name on the wall, the mural of a panda with a ladybug (her favorite bug), the elephant on the wall, all her new friends, any trick I could pull out of my hat to ease the separation. It didn’t work. The tears flooded her eyes and spilled out when she realized that I was leaving her here. Gone was the anticipation; anxiety and nervousness was taking hold. I then pried her away, gave her tons of kisses, said, “I love you and I’ll pick you up before lunch,” and left her, crying, with the teacher. Sigh.

I didn’t have too long to think about the implications of this trauma. Will she be in therapy in thirty years because I left her, crying hysterically, on her first day of pre-school? I had to take my other daughter to her classroom.

We walked down the hall together, passing other parents and children as they experienced their first days. My daughter was quiet. My “parent emotions” were in full force. I was on the verge of tears.

We found the classroom. Again, I pointed out her name on the wall and that her classroom had a giant mural of an elephant. She smiled, but made no comment. And then the magic moment—she spotted her teacher. Tears welled up in her eyes and she looked at me with amazing clarity and joy. She couldn’t stop smiling! Her favorite teacher from “Parent’s Day Out” last year was going to be her pre-school teacher!

I knelt beside her in the hall for a moment, feeling an abundance of emotion, and was overcome with joy and peace. We then walked into her classroom, put her backpack up, and said goodbye.

I walked down the hall to listen for my youngest daughter’s cries. Silence. I sneaked past her open door and saw her giving her teacher a hug. Sigh.

As I ponder my daughters’ braveness while facing a new situation, I am amazed at the strength of children. Thrown into a room full of strangers and left by beloved mommy, they persevere. They color pictures, learn about the alphabet, start discussions, make friends, and most importantly, have fun. And they will do it all again tomorrow. They make the best of a new and somewhat stressful situation and get on with life.

I have successfully finished some of the most emotionally charged twelve minutes of my life. I smile and happily anticipate the years of first days ahead of us.

Life is good.

August 11, 2004

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