I vividly remember every year before the first day of school when I was young I would spend all night tossing and turning with butterflies in my stomach. Unlike most people, I didn’t dread school, in fact for me it was quite the opposite. I was so excited to see everyone and catch up after three months apart that I was simply too wound up to sleep.
Would all my friends be back this year? Would I like my teacher? Did I remember to grab a drink for my lunch? What kinds of stories would everyone have from vacation? Checking the clock a million times and begging myself to sleep, I finally would fall into a restless slumber, simply exhausted from all the scenarios running through my mind.
As my daughter is nearing starting elementary school, I find myself with butterflies all over again – but this time I have so much worry and doubt in addition to being excited. It’s not that I don’t think she will do well; she always has been a fast learner, an eager pupil, and has excelled in her years in pre-school. Mostly, it’s me.
You see, I’m just not ready to let her go. The thought of releasing her into the world alone makes me want to sob and pull her close to never let her out of my sight again. Even if I rationalize that the “world” she will be in is a safe, educational, and warm environment, the irrational part of me still speaks louder. But what if she gets hurt? What if she panics and I’m not there? And the worst – what if she no longer needs me?
Yes, I know it’s crazy, of course she will still need me – she’s only 5, I have at least a few more years until the dreaded stage of independence kicks in with full-force. But then I start thinking about how incredibly fast these first 5 years have gone and before I know it I’m getting sad about her graduating from high school.
It really is true that you don’t know how fast time flies until you have a child. Even looking back on pictures from 6 months ago makes me nostalgic and I know it’s only going to get worse as the years go on. Her starting school is just another milestone I thought was further off than it was and then when it snuck up on me it was with a force I hadn’t anticipated.
I think of how empty our house will feel this fall without her sheer energy filling every space she enters, how lonely her brother will be without his #1 playmate, and how I will always be panicked when the phone rings for fear there is something wrong. I think of missed kisses and snuggles and all the moments of utter joy we share each day and can’t help but feel like I’m losing something I can never get back.
Now, it’s not that I’m entirely sad she will be starting school. In fact, I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with my son while she’s gone, doing things that are hard to do with two kids. I’m also very much looking forward to her coming home each day with new stories, adventures, songs, and things she’s learned that I hadn’t even thought about teaching her yet. But, I’m mostly looking forward to seeing who my daughter becomes when she’s able to spread her wings a bit and explore outside her nest.
I know this fall is going to be a bit hard for all of us to adjust to with changing schedules, the loss of our routines, and the addition of school obligations, but deep down I know it’s the best thing for her. I know she will thrive there and come back each day full of vivacity and exuberance about whatever she was learning, but I still can’t help but feel like it’s also the end of an era. An era that ended much, much too quick.
When the night before school arrives and I’m tossing and turning with butterflies in my stomach again, I will try not to think of how fast it’s all going. Instead, I will focus on how great of an opportunity it will be for my daughter, how wonderful for her to be surrounded by friends her age in a loving and nurturing environment, and above all else, I will remind myself not to cry.
Well, at least not in front of her – all bets are off as soon as I walk away from the school without my sweet baby girl’s hand in mine.