Thursday, August 27, 2015

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

She had been scared about it for quite some time.

She mentioned on several occasions that she didn't want to go; she wanted to learn at home like her friend Addy.

To ease Sunny into the idea of starting kindergarten, I checked out several books from the library about "My First Day of School." It gave us the opportunity to talk through the new experiences she would have. In most of the books, the main character rides the bus to school. I happened to mention that she would not ride the bus. I would drive her to school, where she would line up on the playground and walk inside with her class.

She declared immediately, "NO! I won't go! I'll grab onto you and scream!"

Honestly, that was exactly what I expected. We had visited a new church over the summer, and when I took her to her class, she clung to me and cried. They had to pry her off of me and bear hug her while I dashed out of the room. I pictured that very scene repeated at school, with a hundred other kids and their parents watching.

As the day of reckoning drew painfully close, we focused on how to seek God in the midst of fear. Naturally, the famous Joshua 1:9 was at the forefront:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged,
for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.

I asked family members to write her letters of encouragement. She received a couple of letters, which she kept hidden under her bed with her personal treasures. The letter from my dad talked about—if you can believe it—Joshua and courage. We read it each night at bedtime.

At last the fateful day arrived and moved from the realm of hypothetical to reality. We were, shockingly (haha), running late. We rushed out the door and sped the 4 minutes to school. We arrived at the playground and located line #2. She got in line, where we hugged and did our standard Bye Words. Then more children started assembling and her anxiety mounted. She said, with an undertone of panic to her voice, "I don't want to go! Please let me stay with you."

I knelt down and took both her hands. I told her to remember the words from Granddaddy's letter: You can do this! I told her about Joshua having courage when he was afraid. We repeated several times, "You can do this!"

And by some miracle, she believed it. She remained fixed on her yellow line while I moved off to the side. She didn't cling to me or follow after me. There were kids everywhere now and it was very loud. There was a paparazzi of parents snapping pictures on their smartphones. I don't have a smartphone, but I had brought the camera. I yelled to her above the din, "Can I take your picture?" She meekly nodded yes. I reached for my purse but it wasn't there. It was at home, sitting on the kitchen counter. Without any technology or devices taking up our focus, we were left with nothing but old fashioned human experience. I have no digital image to preserve the moment, only the memory etched forever in my mind.

Separated by a throng of boisterous elementary schoolers, we maintained eye contact across the distance. We couldn't hear each other to yell words of encouragement, so we communicated with our hearts and our faces. It looked exactly like the dramatic train-station goodbyes you see in movies.

Her teacher wisely knew that she needed some extra care. She came and took Sunny's hand to escort her along the way. And then my precious girl marched off to school, brave and strong. I was so, so proud of her.

The visual of the back of her auburn head and favorite purple dress as she walked away from me hit me hard. There she goes, off into the world, and things will never be the same again.

I exhaled slowly and thought, "Wow. That was a fast five years."

Except no. No it wasn't.

Those five years were HARD EARNED. But now that I am placing my most valuable possession in the care of another, every moment that she was under my wing became precious. As Jessie sings in Toy Story 2, "Every hour we spent together is within my heart."

Her little years, intense as they may have been, are officially over. She's a school girl now. It was one small step to get on line #2, but a giant leap for her to voluntarily walk forth into the unknown. Kindly, mild-mannered Mrs. Porter didn't know that as she held Sunny's hand, she was leading her into the future.

With a heart full of hopes, dreams, longings, and expectation, I used all my energy not to sob openly in front of all the smartphone strangers. My baby just walked away and I can't follow. Get to the van, get to the van, I thought. When in the van, there were kids to buckle into their car seats and other tasks such that I never did get the emotional release of a good cry.

We arrived back at home again, where the walls were singing this song:

Bright Eyes and Dimples couldn't figure out why their goofy mama wouldn't quit smothering them with hugs. One day their turn will come to walk away from me too and I have to soak up all the time until then. I set about to staring at the clock until 1:25pm. I couldn't get there fast enough to hear how it went and guys! Guess what:


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