She woke up nervous.
“How will I know my new friends’ names? How will I know the rules? Will my teacher be nice? What if I don’t like their lunch?”
As soon as her eyes opened she was spitting questions at me. It was the first day of Pre-K. I kissed her furrowed brow and reassured her that everyone else would be new too. I told her that the teachers would play games so everyone could learn each other’s names. I told her that it would all be okay. It was an adventure.
She was unconvinced.
I helped her get her uniform on. She was quieter than usual.
“Will you stay with me today Mommy?”
“Mommies can’t stay at school baby girl. But I will drop you off today and I will pick you up later. You are a champion babygirl. You will be fine.”
Pre-K started on a Wednesday. I took the day off from work and we got there super early. My little likes to explore quietly in new situations. I got there early enough that she was the first kid in her classroom. The teacher was still putting things in to their places and making last minute adjustments to her bulletin boards.
“Please ignore us. I just wanted to give her a chance to explore before everyone came.”
The teacher smiled. She understood. She didn’t crowd my lil bit. She let her do her thing. We walked around looking at all of the different centers. We noticed the numbers in each center. “Four kids can play here Mommy. How will she pick which four?”
The teacher explained how free choice time would work. Nia seemed satisfied.
Kids started arriving with their parents. Nia and I were reading a book in the quiet area. She left me to explore her new classmates. She introduced herself to some kids and just jumped in playing with some others. The teacher called all of the kids to the rug. I stepped outside to answer her Dad’s call wondering how it was going. I stepped back in and my throat got tight. Looking at my little miracle sitting on the rug with the other kids in her uniform was emotional for me. She was listening so intently to the story. She was engaged. It was going to be okay. It was all going to be fine.
The teacher announced that it was time for adults to leave. I watched Nia’s face crack. It was easy to be brave knowing I was a few steps away but now I was leaving. She started sobbing. I went to her. I reminded her that, “Mommies always come back.” I whispered affirmations in her ear. “You are a champion. You are excellence. You can do anything. You are not afraid. Mommies ALWAYS come back.” She sobbed. “I just want you to stay. Can you please stay? Can you just hold me? Can you please stay Mommy? Please? Please? Please?” I knew that the longer I stayed the more upset she would become.
I made eye contact with the teacher who walked over to take her from me. I peeled her arms and legs off of me and with one last, “Mommies always come back. I’ll be back Nia,” I walked out of the classroom, out of the school and cried. Yes. I cried. Hard. I know I have to encourage her to fly. I know that there will be times when I need to give her a little push to use those wings. I do it. It’s part of the job. But I am certain that it will NEVER be easy to walk away when she is literally begging me to stay. When I know that going back will comfort her even as it stifles her growth. Because that last part is the key. She has to grow. And I have to step away sometimes for that to happen.
At a new park she stays by my side, cautious. She will not interact with the kids she doesn’t know. She stays close to what is familiar. But if I leave, even if I only absent myself outside of the gate to a bench she will tentatively engage the other kids. She will explore the new slides and climbing structures. She will move forward. My presence keeps her frozen in place, close to the familiar. My distance helps her hurl herself into new situations. And she thrives in those new situations.
The first day of Pre-K was a half day. My Mom came with me to pick her up. As we walked in to the classroom she came running to us. She hugged us tight and introduced my Mom to her teacher. As we left the school she was quiet. She firmly held my Mom’s hand on one side and mine on the other. “How was school Lil Bit?” “It was good. I made friends. I like my teacher. But Mommy.” “Yes love.” “I don’t need to go back there. Okay? I’ll go to work with you tomorrow.”
I reminded her that school was HER job. She needed to come back the next day and keep learning everything that she could. She was quiet.
The next morning Nia was taking the school bus to school. I talked to her bus driver for 20 minutes the night before. I had questions. Was there a monitor on the bus? Did I need to send her car seat? How many kids are on the bus? Have you ever lost a kid? Do you know that I will hunt you down and skin you alive if you let someone bully my baby?
Okay so I didn’t say that last one but I promise you I was thinking it. Daddy talked up the bus with Nia getting her excited about her new adventure. The morning came and it was rainy. In my spirit that felt appropriate. What kind of Mom puts her 3 year old on the bus? What am I doing? Why don’t I change my hours at work so I can take her? What if something happens and I’m not there? I was the quiet one on Thursday morning. I was afraid to speak around the lump in my throat.
The bus came and she was so excited. We have been watching school buses forever and now she was FINALLY on one. She chattered excitedly as I boarded the bus behind her and buckled her in. She kissed me and made jokes with the bus driver as I snapped a quick picture. She waved and blew kisses as the bus pulled away. I stood, frozen, watching it leave, praying silently. Please protect her always Lord. Please keep her safe Father God. Please. Please. Please.
We survived. Both of us. We grew. Both of us.
I might have called the bus driver on his cell phone to make sure she got there safe. Don’t judge me.
This Mommy shit be hard ya’ll.