On a sunny Thursday afternoon in August, I said goodbye to my daughter’s early childhood.
I stood in the parking lot outside her day care and listened for the last time to the sounds of her laughter and squeals echoing from the playground. I knew I would find her there, red-cheeked, sweaty and smeared with dust from an afternoon of vigorous play with her preschool pals — some of whom, like her, have been there since they were tiny infants, only 4 or 5 months old.
I walked for the last time through the heavy, swinging door, touched the brick walls that have sheltered her for the past five years, and headed to her locker, where I packed up the detritus of an active 5-year-old’s life: the spare pairs of socks, the scribbled drawings, the craft projects heavy with Elmer’s glue and thick with glitter.
On our way out, I asked my daughter to pose for a photo beside a small door. We call it the “fox door,” ever since the morning when, in an effort to distract her from a tearful tantrum whose origins I don’t even recall, I made up a story about how it was a special door that only small animals could fit through.
Since that day, we’ve imagined many different animals passing through that door, and she has delighted in answering my questions about it. Could an elephant fit through? I’ll ask her. “No way!” she’ll shout, laughing, then grow pensive and say, “Maybe a baby elephant, Mama. A really little one.”
In about a week, my daughter will walk through the door of a different brick building at her new elementary school. The next few days will be filled with errands as we collect school supplies and new clothes, pick out goodies for her lunch box and meet her new teacher for the first time during open house.
We’ve been talking to our daughter, my husband and I, about how exciting all this is going to be. And although I’ve always said I would be honest with my daughter, I find myself covering up an essential truth about this transition.
When I tell her how exciting it is that she's starting school, how much fun it will be to ride the bus and play on the playground with her new friends, how much she'll get to learn and discover at her new school, what I’m saying is true.
But the excitement in my voice and the smile on my face — they're a little bit of a lie.
Because the truth is, the start of kindergarten is a little more bitter than sweet for me.
My daughter is an only child, and it looks like she's going to stay that way. So as we buy school supplies, try out first-day outfits and fit her for new shoes, I'm looking back at the baby bathtub that's tucked up in the attic, and the crib mattress she now uses as a play mat, and I’m realizing that this is it — the end of the preschool years.
Even now, her long legs almost touch the ground when she crawls up into my lap, and when she leaps into my arms, it takes my breath away. The marks on the full-length mirror that chart her growth are reaching ever higher, and each day she amazes me with her intelligence, her curiosity and her ability to absorb information.
I don't worry about how she'll do in kindergarten. She's bright and outgoing — she loves doing new things and spending time with people. She'll do just fine.
But for me, saying goodbye to my preschooler is a little less exciting, and a little more poignant, than I had imagined.