On your first day of daycare as a seven-week-old baby, I didn’t cry. Not when I handed you over to a near-stranger, or when I got back inside my car alone. Not when I walked into the office after a too-short maternity leave, or even when I shut myself into a windowless storage closet to pump.
You didn’t cry when I dropped you off either.
Do you remember how big the school-age kids looked when you were in the infant room? Do you remember how they loved to look at the babies as they lined up outside your classroom in the mornings to wait for the bus?
Do you remember when you were a toddler, walking into school on wobbly legs as you held my hand? How you’d get distracted by a school-ager going past us the opposite direction and my hand around yours would keep you steady?
Those school-age kids were such a novelty to both of us—all of them taller than you, and some of them taller than me. They were years in the future with their bus rides and school lunches and homework.
But then, little by little, kindergarten came closer. Infants, toddlers, preschool prep, preschool, pre-k … A year ago in January I filled out kindergarten forms in a state of disbelief that we were almost there.
I didn’t cry when I hit submit on those forms. I didn’t cry in March when we walked around your elementary-school-to-be on registration day, or when you got your picture taken for your school ID, or when I talked to the school nurse about your peanut allergy. I didn’t even cry when the state shut down the next day because of a global pandemic, but that might have just been the shock.
Do you remember when the world stood still and we talked about the virus that meant we had to stay home?
You and your two younger siblings spent the next three months at home, and between COVID, working full time without childcare, a divorce, a move, and a constant stream of “unprecedented” this or that, kindergarten had never seemed farther away.
Last summer we all cried.
But despite it all, kindergarten crept closer. I re-registered you for kindergarten in a new district. You transferred to a new daycare location that would bus to your new elementary school.
I did your back-to-school shopping online from a list that included masks and hand sanitizer for in-person days and headphones for virtual days. I downloaded and printed a color-coded shift calendar I stuck to the fridge. You tried on your new backpack and paraded around the living room for your siblings. You looked very big and very small at the same time.
On the first day of kindergarten, I posed you on the front porch in your new dress with your new backpack. I drove you to daycare to wait for your bus. I didn’t cry when I pulled out of the parking lot to go to work, and you didn’t cry when you lined up with a group of school-age kids for the bus. I’m sure almost all of them were taller than you, and some of them were probably taller than me.
Do you remember our Mondays at home together when you did your schoolwork on your iPad and I did my work on my laptop? Both of us tapping away and chatting between assignments? Do you remember the virtual days at daycare? Noisy and chaotic, but filled with fun and friends when schoolwork was complete?
Those Mondays that were just the two of us are some of my favorite days from the past year. I wish kindergarten had been normal for you, but I cherish the glimpse of it I got because it wasn’t.
School was hybrid, and then it was all virtual, and then it was hybrid again. And finally, in the spring, you got to go in-person full-time. I must have blinked because somehow today is your last day of kindergarten.
I’m not sure where the months went, but I can see the change in you. At bedtime, when I’m bustling around with to-dos, you’re reading books to your brother and sister. On our way to and from school in the car, you’re telling Logan how to count by tens. At the dinner table, you rattle off facts about insect life cycles.
Last Monday, I ran to the dollar store to get you a lei for Wednesday's spirit week theme. I wandered into an aisle filled with graduation decor and started chucking stuff into the green plastic shopping basket hooked over my arm. A few aisles over, I texted your grandparents an invite to dinner Sunday night—a surprise kindergarten graduation dinner for you. I spontaneously ordered a little cake in yellow and green from my phone, in bed, at 10 PM.
Nothing in the last 18 months has looked the way we thought it would, and there was very little that either of us had any say in. But I say that graduating from kindergarten, especially when the whole year happened in a pandemic, is something worth celebrating. So, last night, Grammalee helped me deck out the dining room while you watched Frozen with Logan, Darbie, and Grandpa in the living room. We shouted, "surprise" and crowned you with a graduation headband and cut the cake. You read aloud from Princess Truly.
This morning, I dropped you off for your last day of kindergarten and my heart was so full of pride, awe, and joy that one tiny tear may have rolled down my cheek when I got back in the car.
Gracie, you rocked kindergarten through screens, masks, and everything else it threw at you. I am so proud of you.