I stood there watching my daughter get on the bus for her first day of kindergarten. I watched, in awe of my tiny girl, as she stepped up the steps. They were so much bigger then her, and she struggled to climb up them. She made it, sat in her seat, then turned to the window and waved. I smiled and giggled at her excitement. The bus doors closed, and it drove off.
It all felt wrong.
My heart lurched into my stomach. The bus was driving away with my child. She was on it — without me. I panicked. It was so wrong.
I calmed myself quickly. This was the plan. We had discussed the options, and my budding independent lady wanted to ride the bus to and from school. The nagging feeling was so strong, though. How would I know she got to school ok? How would I know she found her classroom? What if she got lost? So many bad things that could happen. Why did I let her do this?
Preparing for this day
I had grown her inside of me. I thought about everything I ate and measured the amount of water I drank — all for her. I went through the most pain I will ever feel and had been exhausted beyond belief — all for her. I had held her, fed her, cuddled her and loved her for five years. I was there for every moment, big or small. She was it for me. Her two younger brothers filled even more of my heart when they joined her.
I had known this day would come. I’d celebrated every milestone of her little life. I eagerly waited for her to sit up, crawl, walk, talk and giggle. Her first smile melted me.
All of those milestones were preparation for this: her going off on her own. Granted, it was just kindergarten, but this was in preparation for bigger, more life-altering moments. I knew if I did my job well, she would be ready for them. After all, I only get to keep her for a small time in her life. She is not mine forever. She is the world’s. She is her own. This is my time with her, and I was giving up a piece of that.
Facing a painful — but necessary — milestone
I had to trust what I had taught her — the lessons she had already learned in her short life and the independence I had encouraged in her. I knew she eagerly wanted this. She craved the time alone, the responsibility of riding the bus. She asked for this moment.
I did too.
I asked to be a parent, wanted it, dreamed of it and pinched myself when I knew I was pregnant. I asked to have a baby, cuddle a toddler — to raise a person. My three kids are little, budding people with their own futures, destinies and plans. My job is helping get them there.
This was the first milestone that hurt. She was leaving to experience things without me — without needing me. Writing that hurts, even now. This is a sign of a job well done. Isn’t this when I pat myself on the back? Yet all I could do was watch where the bus had gone, calculating where in town it was. I imagined her trek from the bus to the classroom.
While she was at school
As I sat to eat lunch with my two boys, I thought of her. I looked at her place at the table and wondered if she was ok. Did she have someone to sit with, could she open her containers in her lunch box? Did she find the note I left her?
Did she miss me?
I realized I did not want her to feel like that. I hoped she was gleefully not thinking of me, giggling with her budding friendships, excited to learn and setting up her desk. I wanted her not to need me.
Seeing her after the first day of school
I got through the day and was waiting at the bus stop 15 minutes before it was due to arrive. If I was there early, would it come earlier? I finally saw it. I saw her. She jumped off the bus and ran to me, giving me the best hug ever. She was excited and talking a mile a minute. She held my hand in hers the whole walk home, telling me everything. I took in her words, took in all of her.
We had made it. She loved her school, teacher and classroom. She came home wanting to tell me all about it. She may have not needed me for her first day, but she wanted me. That filled my heart. I may be raising my kids for the world and only keeping them for a short time. My hope and goal is that they still want to keep me, that they still want me — not need, but want.
I gave her a snack, overheard her brothers asking questions about her day. I opened her backpack and found it empty. She may not need me for school, but remembering to bring her lunch box home is another thing. She still needed me, my job was not done!
Looking into her future
I assume watching the bus driving away each morning will hurt less each day. The pain of her leaving me will become a dull ache. It will always be there. I will always shove it down, encourage and smile at her achievements and independence, ignoring my pain of each step and where it will lead her. It will lead her away from me, hoping she will one day choose to keep me.
I will also report that by the end of her first week she had forgotten her lunch box two times and lost one sweater. I still have some work to do before she is ready for the world.