Ever since school started last week, several people have asked me whether it’s been hard sending my Baby off to elementary school.
While I was worried about how she would cope with the transition (it’s been fine), I wasn’t particularly broken up about it.
What has me weepy, though, is my oldest daughter’s 5th grade year.
Oldest started Crack of Dawn Elementary School in Kindergarten, two weeks after we moved from suburban Philadelphia into an apartment in the Atlanta metro area. She did not want to leave Pennsylvania. The first two weeks in our new apartment she had nightmares every night and slept between me and my husband.
On her first day of school, at 7 AM, we were stuck in a mess of traffic at a busy intersection. I had a plastic bag in my lap (I had terrible morning sickness while pregnant with the Baby) and a half-asleep three year old strapped in her carseat. In the rearview mirror, I watched Oldest looking out the window at the sea of cars, with swollen, tired eyes, clutching her brand new back pack in her lap. We arrived ten minutes late to school on her first day. So late, in fact, that I couldn’t even help her get settled into the classroom– the teacher was already making announcements to the students as they sat transfixed on the rug on the floor. I gave Oldest a quick peck on the cheek and walked away.
I walked Oldest to the classroom only one more morning after that– my nausea was too severe to get out of the car and my three year old’s sleepy body was too heavy for me to carry down the long hallways.
So on the third day of school, I dropped Oldest off in the carpool line and watched her too-large backpack bounce through the glass doors past the front desk where she hesitated before charging forth deeper inside. I spent that entire day at home puking in the bathroom, wondering whether she remembered that her classroom was in the first hallway on the left. I worried that she’d get lost and spend hours crying alone in the building without her mother to guide her. (Of course this wouldn’t happen– there were teachers and staff sprinkled everywhere to help the kids get to their classrooms.)
Thankfully, when I picked Oldest up in the afternoon, she seemed thrilled with her day.
We were new in town, living among boxes, not even sure of our own address or where to shop for groceries. And yet, here was this 5 year-old, starting a new 800-student elementary school in a different city with a mother too sick to walk her to her classroom– doing just fine.
Yesterday morning, after I dropped my 4 year-old off at her Pre-Kindergarten classroom, I ran into two of Oldest’s former Kindergarten classmates. They, too, are lanky, mature fifth graders with backpacks that now fit squarely on the center of their torsos. While we talked, I marveled how they had lost their chubby baby cheeks and their squeaky voices and had gained a confidence that all the older kids seem to have.
So it didn’t just happen to Oldest, I thought. It’s an epidemic, this growing up stuff. When I cuddle next to Oldest on the couch, or kiss her goodbye on the cheek before she walks to school in the morning, I can pretend that she’s not so big– that she’s still mostly little. But when I see the other 5th graders with their long strides and adolescent bodies, I can no longer deny how much they’ve all changed together. How quickly the time has flown.
A small part of me does feel sad for my youngest child starting elementary school. But the bigger part weeps for Oldest, my trailblazer, the girl who must always go out into the world first, who builds the path for her younger two sisters to follow. The child who, in the blink of an eye, has inched furthest away from the shelter of my arms and deeper into the embrace of the world.