On the first day of kindergarten, my daughter was given a poem.
The poem’s rhyming ability rivaled Geisel, and it was filled with promises for the future, and how she would hold the world in her hands once she could count to 100 and learned to read.
I was given a poem as well, about her tiny fingerprints leaving smudges on clean windows, and how quickly time would fly and I’d be missing them when she was gone.
Thirteen years later, I still remember what she wore that day: a white, button-down shirt with red roses embroidered on it. Red buttons. Denim capris with matching red roses embroidered at the hem. Ruffly white socks. Navy blue Mary Janes.
I’d wanted to arrive at the school early on her first day, but was running behind because I’d been awake all night, worrying and vomiting. Vomiting and worrying. I was pale and sick and thin, and a few months along in my fourth pregnancy in five years. There was a PICC line in my arm and liquid nutrition in a backpack I carried continuously, my unwanted extra appendage.
Between the worrying and vomiting and little ones crying and making sure my daughter’s pink Barbie backpack contained every item she needed for lifelong success, I brushed her hip-length blonde hair and styled it into a ballerina bun atop her head.
It was a late August morning filled with sunshine. A bright promise. All the hope in the world for every great thing that ever could be, wrapped in a tiny pink pack on the back of my fifty pound little girl.
She was excited and happy and worried, because going to school meant she was big and she loved words and wanted to learn more of them, especially the kind with more than three letters.
She was worried because she was always worried. She worried about sickness and bad things and bad people and sad things and sad people. The sky falling and the earth opening and tornadoes and fluke blizzards and the gas tank running empty.
She held my hand as we walked to her classroom. The room was cheerful and filled with vibrant colors and letters on the walls and the incredibly loud echo of laughter and sobbing of both children and parents. We looked for the space at one of the tables with her name on it. Olivia. We found it. She sat in the tiny seat and stood back up again, quickly. She walked around the room, running her still-babyish hands along different objects. She paused at the elderly black piano and considered it, soberly.
Over and again we heard the shutter of cameras. Smile for Mommy! Isn’t this exciting?
I slipped out through the sea of people and waited in the hall, peeking in at my daughter through the door window every few minutes. She sat so still in her seat, hands folded on the table in front of her; white, ruffly-socked ankles crossed politely. Back impossibly straight. Eyes trained on the teacher.
I sat in the parking lot for several minutes, crying and worrying. What if she didn’t make any friends? What if I’d done the wrong thing by not sending her to preschool? What if she was behind and it was my fault? What if there was a bully in her class who made her cry? What if she forgot where the bathroom was and wet her pants?
My hands shook as I drove home. She seemed so small and fragile to leave on her own with a teacher we didn’t know and a classroom full of kids twice her size.
She’s like a little mother.
That’s what the kindergarten teacher said of my daughter that first week of school. She’d been tying shoes for kids who didn’t yet know how, opening tricky bags of animal crackers for friends, patting heads and whispering encouraging words to children who sat on the floor crying, missing their mamas.
~ *** ~
It was an early September morning filled with sunshine. A bright promise.
Her tanned legs appeared especially brown against her white denim shorts. She wore a navy blue tank sporting the familiar University of Michigan logo.
She’d just dyed her blonde hair to a dark auburn color, and wore it in a long braid that hung over her shoulder and down the left side of her chest.
Anxiously, she jangled her key ring. This was it then, her dream. Studying psychology at her top choice
One more time, we went over the rules:
Park near the doors in the parking ramp.
Stay with a buddy while walking on campus.
Remember where the blue emergency phones are, if you need to call security?
Request an escort to your car if you’re leaving at night.
She nods. She remembers the rules. We’ve discussed them several times over this summer.
I check her pink backpack to make sure she has sharpened pencils and a bottle of Ativan, just in case she needs it.
On the first day of college, my daughter was given a rape whistle.