I remember the day clearly. Getting my five-year-old ready for her first day of Kindergarten. Dressed in a stretchy, striped skirt, pink top and her signature style (at the time), several necklaces. Her blonde hair cut short in a bob…tights and patent leathers with straps, Emily was ready for school.
My heart was full of excitement for her, yet etched quite close, was the bittersweet feeling of knowing that this was the first big door she would enter through: school. And, these steps would move her farther from her father and me, from hearth and home to, ultimately, her own independence. I got choked up, turned to my husband and said, “It happened so fast. I can’t believe she’s going to Kindergarten. She is going to be grown up and gone before we know it.”
To which my sweet husband calmly replied, “Dear, she is only five, this is just the beginning. We have lots of time…” squeezing my hand tight to reassure me. Though, I think deep down, he shared this sense of knowing that our little “boo” was really growing up. She gave us each long hugs before she turned to meet a sea of new faces, seemingly curious and unafraid….
Fast forward to this morning. Sporting black jean shorts and the “seniors” shirt that all the girls planned to wear, her long, blonde hair straightened for the occasion, a bit of makeup on her summer sun-glistened face. My sweet, smart, stunning 17-year-old daughter had gotten herself ready for school. Backpack in tow, lunch (still happily made by me), and iPhone in hand to record the events of the day. Emily yelled good-bye to her father and allowed me to give her a good luck hug. Then, we were off…me driving her to her first day of school this year. The 13th year in a row that I have driven her to her first day. Each time, a rite of passage on its own merit, but this year tinged with something more.
The knowing that we have almost gotten her to the end of the road. The road that ends in high school. In our small town. The road that safely takes her to and from our house where she loves to regroup and recover from a long day at school or nights out with friends when she has to put herself out there. Home has become a safe haven for her and for that I am very glad.
Next year’s proverbial “drive” to school will take her down a new road. Unchartered territory to (hopefully) the college of her dreams. Where, we will drop her off, say good-bye and not see her for several months. We won’t have to pick her up after school or make her dinner. We won’t get to hear about her day or know exactly where she is or what she is doing at pretty much any point in time. The house will become more quiet. No more stories of high school drama, Instagram slights or loud music while she washes the dishes. No more hours to days of little to no conversation as she nests in her room focused solely on her teenage world; followed by the pleasant surprise of her broken silence and deep conversations about specific events in her life, reminding us she still needs us.
What I will miss most though is quite simply her presence. Her energy and adventures bring life to the house. I will miss her company. She is a beautiful, creative, thoughtful girl and I am not yet ready to say goodbye to her…even though it often feels like she is a renter in our home. Off with friends more often than not, usually present for family dinner — some nights engaged and talkative, others for the sheer obligation of it.
This is also the first time in a long time that I have begun to mark the passage of time in very small increments, like when she was in baby…first smile, first time she slept through the night, first word, first time she rolled over on her own, first Halloween, first Christmas, first playdate, first time we left her alone, and on and on. With each passing year, the acknowledgement of these firsts became few and far between…until they are now lasts. Last time I will drive her to the first day of school, last school photo, last action movie with dad, last family outing to Apple Holler, last Homecoming dance, last spur of the moment trips to the mall… and, marking these lasts feels even more bittersweet than marking the firsts.
But, now it is also her time to shine and my husband and I have parented in such a way that we want her to feel completely free to do so. She has a solid foundation, a good sense of herself and healthy boundaries. She is curious and ready to explore beyond the nest of our home, our town and even the state we live in. And, we applaud her for that knowing and that courage.
This point in life did seem to happen in a blink. Hopefully the next 18 years will move more slowly for me as I move into my new role of observer and advisor vs. being in the trenches with her, taking care of her most basic needs.
While I know it sounds cliché, time really does go by too fast, but now I often see it more in my life than hers. I see the short side of the stick for me and my husband while she has so many more milestones to reach…college graduation, a serious boyfriend or two, travel, engagement, marriage, babies and all of the other unpredictable life events that will challenge her and, at times bring her great joy and, at others, deep sorrow. Ultimately, she will learn to navigate and live within life’s hills and valleys, traversing on her own and then with her family. Throughout this time, she will hopefully reach out to us via text, phone call or visit and allow us in. Just to enjoy this part of life with her, and, of course, provide her with guidance.
For, she will always be my baby. No matter how old…when she is 50 and I am in my 80’s, she will still be my child. My heart. My most precious gift.