And off she went, wearing her lavender and white seersucker backpack with ‘Emma’ embroidered across the front. From the moment we got it, she kept exclaiming, “Backpack, I love it!” as we talked about the transition to come. At 22 months, we were getting a head start in the January two’s program, and my baby girl was growing up.
The night before, I tossed and turned. I woke up before her, listening eagerly for a peep so I could run into her room, and get her ready for the day. We headed downstairs, taking obligatory photos to mark the milestone. She looked like such a big girl. The jeans. The boots. The cable knit sweater. The once-receding hair-line that had grown out long and was framing her angelic face.
We got into the car, singing about her first time at drop-off. “Mommy comes back, she always comes back, she always comes back to get me…”
As we pulled into the parking lot, Emma excitedly shouted, “School!” I had a lump in my throat as I took her out of the car. We entered the front door, and she marched right ahead of me, into the classroom. It was a familiar space where we had been taking Mommy and Me preschool class together with one of the same teachers, but this time, there was a sign in front, welcoming Emma.
We were first to arrive, giving her an opportunity to put her coat away in a cubby (Cubby! She has a cubby!)—the personalized one with a smiling photo of her and a cut-out of a colorful fish.
She instantly gravitated towards the table of purple play dough, and sat down to make herself at home. Her warm, caring teachers, Miss Rianne and Miss Joan jumped right in. Emma seemed calm and comfortable. I however, did not, and lost my composure for a moment. I truly never felt more together then when I was crying…and my toddler was not.
Rianne and Joan were reassuring that Emma and I would both make it through. I knew they would take good care of my daughter, as they were taking care of me. Embarrassed, I thought, why was I making this about myself? It’s supposed to be about her! Turns out, when you’re a parent, anything your child experiences, oh-so powerfully affects you too.
I gave Emma a heads up that I would be leaving soon. “Remember the song we sang in the car? Mommy always comes back.”
“Comes back!” she said happily, as if to let me know she was ready for me to break away.
A few children began to trickle in. They were sweet and welcoming. One mom kindly shared, “We’ve been talking about Emma in our house all week!”
I wondered how my little girl would handle the separation seeing other parents leave. It was time to face the inevitable.
Through glossy eyes I said, “Okay honey, Mommy is going now…” She looked at me, said, “Color”, then walked over to the easel and never looked back. I left the room with a smile and a tear.
Luckily, I was greeted by some familiar faces dropping off their older children, reminding me they’ve been in my position too. They simply understood. It’s amazing how much we need comfort and camaraderie even in our adult life. There’s nothing like a group of moms reminding you how much you’ve got this…and how well your child is going to succeed.
The director lead me to another room where I could observe until I was ready to part. I watched Emma. She looked like she’d been doing this for months. When the teacher caught my eye, she gave me a thumbs up, and for the first time in my daughter’s whole life, I left somewhere without her.
Sure, she has stayed at the houses of her grandparents and aunt and uncle. Yes, we’ve had family and close friends watch her briefly in her own home. But this was different. This was the first time I wouldn’t really, truly know everything that was happening.
What if she suddenly realized I wasn’t there and melted down, unable to be consoled? What if a child pushed her and she got hurt, or she pushed another child and got scolded? What if heaven forbid, the building caught fire or she broke through the gate on the playground or a snack got lodged in her throat, and I wasn’t there to help? What if it was the one second she was off in the corner and everyone thought she was accounted for?
The logical side of me knew this fleeting slide-show of thoughts was unrealistic. But my Mommy heart ached. It ached because from the moment they placed my daughter on my chest, I have been able to protect her. And even though I fully trusted the people she was with, it hurt just a little to let go. Because this is only the beginning, and gosh before I know it she’s going to want me to sit in another row at the movie theater so she can be with her peers, or get dropped off at the mall without me.
But today, was not that day. Today was the day when I would take baby steps to give her space to grow and learn in a safe environment…for only three hours. If college is any longer than three hours, I’m screwed.
And so I kept busy, happily receiving positive updates and photos from her incredible teachers via text. How lucky we are to live in this technological age where we can stay connected while apart. I saw Emma painting the place mat she’ll use there, sifting sand in the sensory table, and swinging outside with a smile peeking out of her furry hood.
Before I knew it, time had come to pick her up. I showed up a few minutes early, and could barely get out of my car fast enough. The wonderful director met me at the main entrance to tell me what a great day my daughter had. When I walked into the room, Emma was the only one not wearing her coat. “She doesn’t want to leave!” her teacher told me with a smile. Even though my little princess had so much fun she didn’t want to come home, I still got the best hug when I arrived. I think we were both filled with a sense of relief and accomplishment.
As I snuggled my little girl, Rianne and Joan were gushing over what an incredible day she had. They said it was one of the smoothest transitions they’ve seen, and she was made for the two’s program. Neither could get over what a spitfire personality she has, and how self-assured, confident, and independent she is. She followed directions, participated in every activity, and even lead the way, encouraging her new friends with, “Come on guys, let’s go!” She had already made more than one buddy.
I felt weepy and proud. While this glowing report truly made me realize what a successful experience this will be for Emma’s development, I must admit, it tugged at my heart-strings a bit. When did she grow up so fast? When did she turn into this toddler/kid?
We were last to leave, as I wrangled a resistant 22-month old into the same hallway we had arrived at first thing that morning. Upon exiting, Emma saw Miss Rianne head in the opposite direction, and chased after her saying, “Wait! Wait! Teacher!”
I smiled. She was happy there. I made the right choice.
Feeling the intense meaning of the word bittersweet, Emma and I left hand in hand. We talked about her activities, marveled at her artwork, and giggled. We were reunited again. Mommy always comes back.
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