The backpack with the little blue owls slips off her shoulder as she walks up the path and undaunted, she pushes it back in place. It is empty, save for the anticipation, the unknown of the day. We are enveloped by the phalanx of scurrying children and resolute adults, each looking for a friend, a teacher, a door, a space to fit. She reaches for my hand. It is the first clue I have that she is somehow feeling unsure in these surroundings. I think of how overwhelming the crowd must be to someone just cresting three-feet tall. I think of how overwhelming the rest of the morning might be.
By the time we find the entrance for the tiniest of the school’s new inhabitants, I can tell that she has gained some of her courage back. She stays close and quiet, but moves determinedly toward the door that the teacher holds open, pulling me along beside her.
I try not to hover as she finds her nametag in the pile on the table; as she finds a marker to print her name on the welcome sheet; as she finds a place to sit on the alphabet mat – her ground zero for the next 10 months. Soon, she is raising her hand to answer the teacher’s question – or rather, not to answer the proposed question, but instead to inform her teacher that she has a puppy named George (news to me). I resist the urge to interject, to correct her in her enthusiasm. I resist the urge to direct her to the playstations that I think she will enjoy most, and instead let her scope things out herself, watching her settle on the painting station. I resist the urge to coach her to wipe off the extra paint; to make sure she has put her name on her artwork, to place it neatly on the drying rack. I resist the urge to be her mother in the ways that I know how to be her mother, and try to embrace a way of being her mother that involves me not being involved.
How do I feel about my tiny, beautiful, wide-eyed daughter starting Junior Kindergarten?
I feel like I have fed her to the wolves.
I feel like her free, wholistic, spontaneous childhood is over, way earlier than it should be. I feel like I am institutionalizing her and let the indoctrination begin – this is how we become good little citizens, ok boys and girls? Everybody line up, everybody listen up, everybody hands up! I feel like my smart, creative, imaginative, clever daughter is on her way to becoming a trained automaton, the bulk of whose first year of formal education will be mostly about learning how to respond correctly to Pavlovian cues. I feel like I am failing her as a mother, as a human being. I feel like I am having an asthma attack, or maybe an existential crisis.
And then Junior Kindergarten is over for the day, and my daughter leaps towards us, bounds towards us and tells us, unprompted that Kindergarten is awesome! and her smile radiates confidence and enthusiasm, and I think that she’ll do just fine, she’ll thrive, she’ll be ok, and maybe, just maybe, I will be too.