“Last time, Mama just dropped me off.”
“Do you want me to just drop you off, or wait with you ’til the bell rings?”
“Just drop me off.”
She had never, ever, ever said this before, but when I stopped the car, my big girl leaned into the front seat to give me a hug and a kiss, pulled on her backpack like an old pro, and hopped out – without a single look back. Admittedly, I was one of only ten parents to linger by the class lines last year – but still! I have to wonder: Were the other nine dismissed, as well?
Happily, I was re-instated on Wednesday – for thirty seconds anyway.
“Come with me,” she said as we rolled to a stop. “It was so cold yesterday!”
“You were cold?”
“Yeah. Weren’t you?” It was over 70 degrees Fahrenheit so no, I was not cold. I was not even remotely cold. “Besides, it was weird. I thought I was early. No one was in line. I couldn’t find my friends for the longest time.” I knew what she meant. A line of backpacks always waited by the fourth grade door, but the children were far away on the playground – half a world from where she stood – I mean, if I take a minute to view it through her eyes. So she invited me to take a bite out of cold – a bite out of her fleeting loneliness – by waiting with her once again. Until the first bell. Or – as it happened – the first friend, at which point she ran off again without a backwards glance – this time, without a hug, without a kiss, without even a brief wave – and I was free to go.
It’s a strangely painful joy, isn’t it? my friend Julie asks on Facebook. Yes. Yes, it is.
Another friend says stories like this make her cry. Her son just started Kindergarten; I understand.
But here is what I know:
My girl is confident. She has friends. A lot of friends, even if she chooses to play with only one or two each day.
She loves her moms. She loves her sister. She loves her cousins, her aunties, her uncles and grandparents, near and far. Family is important to her. We are her base, her launching pad, her support. She wouldn’t trade us for all the world.
Her heritage is important, too.
She walks taller this year – now that she’s been to Guatemala, now that she’s begun fourth grade, now that she sees friends every day, now that we’ve spent two consecutive weeks together as a family, all four of us, now that it’s September, now that it’s Fall – or just: Now. She walks taller than she did before.
So I celebrate. I celebrate arriving at school and having her leap out of my car, run onto the playground and cross the new turf towards the fourth grade door. I celebrate that she is where she needs to be, exactly where she is, today.
And if I cry a little sometimes because the intimacy of early childhood is shifting? The cheering in my head is still louder than my tears and I know, in the long run, it’s this confidence, this new-found independence that will guide who she becomes. I am bursting with pride to witness this – to witness her – blossom.
So I may cry, and commiserate quietly with the people who love her, and with moms who know how it is. I may. I do. And that’s okay.
But the Mayan Guatemalan children in the lakeside village where we recently stayed are free to roam the avenues between school and chores. And our girl, in so many ways, has chosen upon our return home to stretch her own legs and push her own limits, so she can roam the avenue, too.
She’s writing a bio now. It’s required as part of the fourth grade. Right on schedule, right on time, she’s deciding how to describe herself to the world. She asked me for the name of the hospital where she was born. She asked me how much she weighed. We’re lucky. We have all this written down.
She decided to learn the cello this year, too – my small girl, whose heart is so deep. She worried for days about this choice, fearing the cello would be too big. But they come, it seems, in a quarter size. She is elated. And I can’t wait.
I can’t wait to hear her play. With strength. Forte. With feeling. I can’t wait to hear how her next verse sounds.
Fourth grade. Big girl. I can’t wait to hear her play.