Next week my oldest child turns six. The week after, she starts full-day school for the first time.
She’ll eat lunch without me, for the first time. We’ll be apart for longer than we’ve ever been apart before, unless you count that rare weekend I flew out to see friends or a few other random times in life when I was gone all day, but that were exceptions and not typical.
I’m not okay with her being gone, but I have to be. More, I have to be a grown-up and put on a smile because my daughter is a little nervous about going to kindergarten, and because I already cannot imagine how much her little sister will miss her. (Last year when her big sister was in preschool, my youngest would ask by 10 a.m. if we could go get her.)
I anticipate how I’ll handle this change.
I plan on starting my toddler in a Mommy and Me class, and I envision morning library excursions. But the truth is that I won’t be able to activity away the pain and emptiness that we’ll both surely feel at this loss of our regular companion, my oldest child and her big sister.
We’ll adjust. People always do. Kids, especially, always do, because the nature of childhood is getting into a routine right before it switches up. We’ll adjust, but my life will never be the same. This point, of my daughter leaving for full-day school, is a marker in her life and in mine, and although I may seem dramatic, I know how important this moment is to the place of where her life with me somewhat ends and her own life shoots off.
We raise our kids to leave us, and we adjust and move forward because we have to, but it still hurts. It’s hurting now just thinking of it. This ache in my heart rises up through my throat and splashes down my cheeks at the craziest of times, like when I’m laughing with her, and she’s sitting in my lap and we’re cuddling after we’ve finished dinner, and I have to smoothly excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom for a few minutes.
Mostly, I’m starting this big adjustment by trying not to overthink, by trying not to look forward too much, by staying present. Which is hard, considering all of the planning I’m doing right now for her and our family’s new schedule.
But as often as I can, I just look at her when we play dolls. I take in how the dimple in her chin becomes deeper as we giggle while pretending a wooden spatula handle is the dolls’ gymnastics balance beam. I enjoy watching the way she plays with her little sister when I’m in the other room and they think I don’t see. I watch how they fight, like siblings who play together do, and I know I’ll miss all of these things in only a matter of weeks.
1. Making and eating Jello with whipped cream.
2. Reading our favorite books together.
3. Going to the open-air market for fresh fruits and local treats for snacks.
4. Eating lunch at the zoo.
5. Unrolling our yoga mats next to each other and doing downward dogs.
6. Listening to the rainstorms and talking about what makes thunder and lightening.
7. Looking for rainbows after the rain goes away.
8. Really paying attention to the cool things my kids come up with when playing pretend.
I stay here as much as I can, not so much ignoring reality and what lies ahead, as tucking myself into this treasured space of these final days of this one summer—that one before my daughter started kindergarten.
I do this, particularly, when I glance at the time and it’s only three, and I think something along the lines of, “Oh my God, two more hours until a glass of wine is appropriate!”
I remind myself that this chaos coupled with the frequent simplicity is a lot of what makes having children beautiful, even if it’s what makes it hard. Having kids is one part magic and one part monotony, and I’ll miss this intricate combination a lot starting in two weeks.
I know I’ll have complicated feelings all over again when my youngest goes to school, too. But for right now I hold them. I kiss them. I sometimes mediate their fights. I deal with temper tantrums. I take them for ice cream. I’m bored with them on sticky, humid days when it’s nearly too hot to go outside. I make Jello. I look for shapes in the clouds. I enjoy watching my kids be kids.