Today I was this close to bursting into big ugly sobs on an empty public school playground.
After carrying my 4-year-old from the car, once we crossed the threshold of the school grounds, I placed her grubby sneakers down onto the ground, her 40-pound weight released from my arms with both relief and trepidation. The sun warmed our backs as we walked side by side towards a hand painted sign that read “Office.”
How was it this time already? How did we get to kindergarten already? How am I going to pull my shit together here for this next stage of parenting?
Four years ago I lay pale and shivering as she was wrapped in a faded green towel and my entire bottom half was shoveled back inside me and sewn shut. The baby was here and before the freezing wore off I gobbled down the best fruit salad of my life, kissed everyone I could and suckled this new girl who had eyes like a crow. Shiny, black and all-knowing. I’m here. I’m yours.
I counted the stairs with her as we climbed up and reached the front door of the school. As it sighed shut behind us, we paused. It was almost too much; the smells and the hand drawn signs hanging off the walls and the tiny water fountain and the echoes and the irony-free earnestness of it all. I hadn’t been in an elementary school for probably 25 years.
This was trippy, which I told the secretary in the office, and her eyes slightly narrowed as she said “Pardon me?”
Right. I was in new territory here. Smarten up your mouth, Brooke. You’re a Mom right now. Not a sarcastic Mom blogger.
I handed over all the documents I had studiously gathered; her slippery birth certificate, the rental agreement, our sour-faced passports, her vaccination records – we are real and she is ours and this is where we live. Paper proof that this is where we belong right now.
I clenched my jaw tight to not bark out, “But. I’m actually so not ready so it would be abundantly cool if you want us kicked out and I can keep her home and I can pretend that the last four years haven’t flown by so fast that I can only remember like seven things that happened, three of which involve poop.”
My wise and cool Mom friends all tell me it will be wonderful. She will thrive. She will mature and grow and it’s the next step of her development and life. I nod and agree and smile and make the right noises.
But, I’m not worried about her. Well, if she’s a dick to her teacher, or chases down and kisses all the boys I’m pretty much moving us to a yurt in the Yukon, but I know she will be fine.
It’s me. And I don’t typically get all preciously upset about her. I work full-time so it’s not like I even see her during the day. I won’t miss her. Day-to-day I won’t feel the absence of her chipmunk voice or her dirty hands slyly being wiped on my jeans.
But, I am acutely aware of the new distance between 4 and 5 years old and how the time feels wet-fish slippery and how the steps she will take all by herself will create a new space between us.
I will watch her race towards this new adventure next September and stand with all the Moms trying to be cool and brave, with our arms heavy at our sides, hands twitching at the air.
After we had completed the registration, we slowly walked back down the hallway. She paused in front of the water fountain and I helped her turn the dial until a stream of clear water appeared for her to take a cautious bite out of. She looked up at me with saucer eyes and wiped her mouth, split wide with a smile.
As we pushed out into the sun, she looked back and whispered, “I like that.”
I let her sucker me into picking her up as we walked back to the car. She rested her head on my shoulder as an unconscious reassurance to my swollen heart. I squeezed her tight as we crossed the street and whispered into her messy hair, “If you’re ready, I can be ready too.”