The (pre)School Transition

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It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which means one thing. If life were a musical, summer’s starring role is about to end. Her arms have been wide with bright days and lingering sun. She’s thrown her head back and sung rain storms. She’s dazzled us with gardens and greenery and growth.

But somehow, we’ve reached curtain call.

This morning, buses and carpools are depositing eager children at the front steps of schools. A new round of kids with combed hair and new backpacks will pop up on my news feed (bless you, Minnesota, for starting school after Labor Day.) Parents everywhere will be shocked for a moment by the palpable presence of quiet, the rearrangement of family dynamics.

Tomorrow is our eldest’s first day of preschool. And like most days, I’m sure she’ll run down the sidewalk toward the van, sun-bleached hair swinging, and for a few minutes, it will feel like any other outing. Three sets of buckles. The usual haggling over watching a show. Keys. Air conditioning blasting from the vents. Some sort of phantom squeal from the hood of my van.

And then, somehow, we’ll be at the double doors of school. We’ll navigate the halls and stairs to the preschool room, where I’ll gently nudge my daughter, blinking and tentative, onto a new stage.

Thankfully, preschool is like a year or two of dress rehearsal for the real deal. We’ll practice stepping in and out of a new routine for a couple of afternoon hours, three days a week, but not much else will change. At least in theory.

By this time, I’m sure you’ve read your share of articles and blog posts about this, so I won’t bore you with the nostalgic/sad bits about how I remember my first fall with my infant daughter, how I carried her everywhere in a baby backpack so she could see the wild brilliance of September’s colors firsthand, and how now she’s all grown up and going to school. *Sniff*

What I will tell you is that during that season of transition, I had to fight off darkness every single day. I was on maternity leave and my deadline for going back to work was approaching too fast. And while I tried to make the most of my time with my firstborn, much of it was tinged with sad. With fear of leaving her. Of adjusting to parts of my life without her, and vice versa. It seemed that from the moment she was put in my arms, I had to start practicing how to let go.

But it wasn’t just about letting go. It was about trust. 

I had to trust that I wasn’t the only one that was supposed to raise my child.

That in her lifetime, there would be a series of caregivers, teachers, aides, helpers, leaders, and professors in charge of her well-being. That other people were meant to be a part of her development.

As much as I hated having to accept this new concept in the beginning, I’m now incredibly grateful for it. It’s not about shifting responsibility or shuffling childcare duties.

It’s the widening of my daughter’s knowledge and the deepening of her experience.

It’s faith that she’s meant to be a citizen at large in this world, and that each instance of my letting go is the broadening of her capability. When she walks into that classroom, she will get to practice being a person outside of the context of our family.

And I’ll find (yet another) instance to practice trust. To kiss her and tell her she’s strong, she’s smart, and that she’ll do great. To believe those things enough in my heart to convey them to her with words.

Starting school could be another transition filled with worry and fear, if I let it. I question my daughter’s ability to listen and obey classroom rules the first time, every time. I worry about her strong will and mischievous bent. I wonder how my younger daughters are going to get their full naps in. I already feel constricted by the new schedule that hasn’t even started yet. 

But trust says these things will work themselves out. That it’s no use to worry about tomorrow, or get worked up about what may or may not happen.

Each day has trouble. Each day has grace.

And like any good show, we simply must go on.

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