My baby girl goes to kindergarten tomorrow. Now, I know its a big cliche to say, "it goes by so fast". But guess what? It does. I seriously remember exactly what it felt like when the nurse wrapped her up and handed her to me right after she was born. I can remember the music we listened to in the hospital the night of her birth. I can remember the first time I realized how much I was falling in love with her. It's all so fresh it's like it happened yesterday, and yet so much of it is also foggy I fear I'll lose the details forever. It's a funny thing - like something slippery you just can't quite grasp hold of.
I was feeling really good about her going to kindergarten - just really very excited and happy for her. I know she is ready, and the school is just down the street from our house, and she has friends in her classroom who we already know. I know a lot of parents at her school already - people from the neighborhood and parents of her friends. And she's been going to daycare or preschool since she was 12 weeks old. Sending her into someone else's care is not something new for me.
But today, I had a thought about school - about how hard it is, about how mean people can be. Like Dora, I was skinny, and smart, and loved my parents a whole lot. I feel like I had kind of a sheltered childhood - we just had a very stable home life and things were generally very good for us. Our parents read to us and loved us, and loved each other. I got through school ok and feel relatively unscathed by it (overall), but I can think back on being teased for being smart, or skinny, or whatever. I can remember how hurt I was by friendships turning sour, by being left out of things, by not being in the "in" crowd. I guess going through those things is a part of becoming independent and adult, but I think about Dora going through it and I just want to find some sort of shortcut, some detour that protects her from all the bad.
Dora knows that my mom is in heaven. We've talked about it a lot, for a lot of reasons. We've looked at pictures, she's seen me cry (a few times!) about my mom. We've talked about how Grandma Carol is up in heaven with Mackeson (our cat who died a couple of summers ago). I don't know how fully she comprehends death but she knows that when you die, you go somewhere else. She knows we don't get to see Grandma Carol.
I don't know if it was because of this or because of something someone said at her preschool, but a couple of weeks ago, in the car and out of the blue, Dora asked me, "mommy, are you going to die when I grow up"? Wow. I had to think about how to respond to that, and then I did the best I could. I tried to explain that yes, everyone dies, but that it was a long way away, and that as long as we love each other, we'll always be together. I explained that love goes beyond everything, that because we love each other we stay connected all the time, even when we're apart. I think this really sunk in because she says it all the time now.
Tonight after her bath she wanted me to blow dry her hair. I brushed it out and she laid down on the bed next to me while I nursed Oscar. Her hair was so shiny and blond, spread out around her on the bed. I looked at her little tiny body, stroked her back, and said, "tomorrow is a big day. You start school tomorrow. I just want you to always remember you are strong and you are smart, and I love you very much". I was thinking about those hard times in school, those people who are inevitably going to be mean to my child at some point. "As long as we love each other, we'll be together forever," I said. She smiled and shook her head yes, sucking on her two fingers like she has since the day she was born.
Tomorrow, I have to let go of her hand, have to let her walk into that big school with her lunch box and her backpack and trust that she will be protected by our love. Like a spotlight that love will follow her wherever she goes, giving her a little cushion against the hard surfaces of the world, keeping us together even when we're apart. I've got to remember her spotlight is on me, too, there to protect me from all that is harsh and cold in this world, to remind me of her love, to keep us connected, even when we're apart.
I love you baby girl. Stay strong and stay safe.