I didn’t cry this morning. Though I got a little ache under my ribs as I watched Penny in her crisp new clothes eating her breakfast at the counter with her sisters in a way that was different than any other time she’d eaten breakfast at that counter. A way that seemed to say, “Big things are happening to me. It is my important day. And this is my important-day breakfast. And just like getting dressed this morning and getting my hair done, it must be done with more willingness, more a sense of necessity, more excitement but also with more seriousness about the business. I am getting ready to go out into the real world, and eating my breakfast before I do is surely a significant part of preparing for that event”.
As per tradition, Mike took an hour or so off of work. He always takes the kids on their first day. (Then he comes home, sits on the couch so I can wrap my arms around him and put my head on his shoulder, and tells me exactly how it all went.)
And it was only after Mike and Penny had left, when a little beep from my phone let me know that a texted picture had just come through, that I finally got teary. There Penny was. Sitting in her little desk spot. Her backpack was hung and she was wearing a little name tag and flashing her photo-forced smile at Mike.
My phone only shows texted pictures big for a few seconds before they shrink very small again. So I curled up on the couch while Anders crawled around on the floor in front of me saying, “vvv-vv-vvv” as he drove a little car about, and Jesse hauled various cheese-graters, mixing bowls, and pitchers into the living room; and I clicked and re-clicked on that little image of Penny – making it big again every time it got small, and thought how absolutely crazy it was – this day marking her entry into the world. Truly that’s what it is. We’ve never opted to send our kids to pre-school, so it is only when Kindergarten comes along that they leave my constant safe-guarding and influence. While it is true that Kindergarten is only about three hours a day, those three hours I won’t be there to make sure she knows what things are right and kind. I won’t be there to quickly swoop in with comfort if someone has said something hurtful, or if she is nervous or unsure. And that would maybe be OK – if it was just those three hours, but it isn’t just those three hours. It is the start of something much bigger. The start of her leaving my side and taking on the real world and learning all on her own how to navigate, and she won’t come back after this. Not for good. Not like life before this point. Why, next she will go to first grade, and then second. And it won’t stop there. She will head to high school and then off to college. It feels like, “There you go little one. Off with you. It’s time to spread your little wings and fly” – only what a ridiculous thing to be saying when she hardly has any wings at all yet for flying.
I was watching Penny last week as she sat for her little pre-Kindergarten assessment with her teacher. She was so small and so careful with her answers -- all the while holding tightly to the sides of her tiny little chair – occasionally pulling the front feet up a little. And suddenly I knew – not the normal obvious way we know things – but in a different way – a way that was frighteningly and yet wonderfully like someone had just skipped forward to the middle of a movie. It was like flipping to the middle of a book and reading a single sentence that would give away chapters and chapters of what was still to come. It almost took my breath away and I knew I should slam the book shut because that was cheating – seeing something so far ahead with out watching everything that had to happen first. What I knew was that she would be the adult someday. That sounds dumb. It’s obvious, but I swear I saw a quick flash of living and then Penny, not the small blonde girl nervously clutching her chair before me, but a tall, blonde, strong woman all her own – sitting relaxed and confident. She would be the one talking gently with a different little child. She would be the kind and confident and mature one helping some other small girl nervously spreading those wings. And she wouldn’t really remember that only one tiny fraction of time before that, it was she herself that was the small one. She wouldn’t remember that I sat there, across the room, watching her bravely speak out “loud enough for the teacher to hear” like we’d practiced before coming. She wouldn’t remember that I saw that little blonde girl just barely setting off to know her own will and mind. She wouldn’t know, now that she was strong and sure in her flying, that I’d sat there when she very first tentatively stretched out those little feathers and that I saw where that would take her.