Wednesday, September 05, 2007

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

First day of Kindergarten. We've been eagerly anticipating this day for months now, but the reality of it has been somewhat lost in the shuffle of paperwork, the uncertainty of knowing which school Eleanor would attend, and the weary pace of our packed summer calendar.

It means a lot, this day. For where there was once a chubby-faced, sparkley-eyed baby, who was surely too small to entrust to the care of a daycare provider; there was then a small, rosy-cheeked, finger-sucking child, who was surely too young to go to preschool and make new friends so quickly; now there is a slender-bodied, bandy-legged, toothy-grinned young girl, who is surely too inexperienced to face the world of Kindergarten with such foolhearted bravery.

But she did.

She dressed in full Kindergarten splendor: a comfortable cotton dress (not a new one, but one of her favorites), with a long-sleeved shirt underneath, set off by her shiny new school shoes. She heaved her backpack on, and carried her lunchbox herself.

I hugged her to me, inhaling the sweet-salty smell of her hair. I whispered a prayer into her ear, hoping it would find its way into her heart, and then weave like insense up to the heart of God.

Dear God, thank you for Eleanor. Thank you for this, her first day of Kindergarten. Please be with her today. Keep her safe. Help her to make new friends, to obey the rules, and to have fun. Amen.

Despite the off-the-cuff comment of one of Eleanor's teachers at open house last week, that "you'd be crazy to put your kid on the school bus during the first two weeks of school" because the buses are so notoriously late, we loaded our first-born onto a freshly cleaned yellow bus this morning, knowing that our Creature of Routine would only be bothered by a we'll-drive-you-the-first-week-and-after-that-you'll-ride-the-bus plan. Better to bite the bullet, right from the get-go.

We talked a lot about riding the school bus. Each kid is responsible for his or her own behavior, because there are no grown-ups to monitor it. Seats are for sitting only, never for feet or for standing. If there's an emergency, listen for the driver's instruction and quickly do exactly as you're told. Sit where you see an open seat, and stay in your seat until you arrive at school. And don't worry, because the bus only goes to one place, which is your school.

Except that when we arrived at the bus stop, we met a 2nd-grader and 4th-grader, headed to a different school, who informed us that the bus first stops at their school, and then goes to Eleanor's. We relayed this new information to Eleanor, who listened, unfazed by this wrench in the Grand Bus-Riding Plan.

I thought about the "Tell Us About Your Child" form Eleanor's teacher asked us to fill out. What are your child's strengths, the form asked. Last night, I sat down and wrote:

Eleanor likes to make plans and collaborate with others to execute the plan. She is artistic and creative. She is a good problem-solver. She understands most things after receiving an explanation.

I paused and recalled an observation that Eleanor made while devouring airplane snacks on the way back from Colorado yesterday, her face scrunched up with seriousness as she peered into the miniature snack bag: "Mama, have you ever noticed that, with snack-mix and legos, the little pieces fall to the bottom and the big ones stay at the top?"

She's good at looking for the big picture; at connecting the dots, I continued. She has a great sense of humor.

I forgot to write: She is very brave.

But she is, nonetheless. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation and she smiled ear-to-ear as the school bus approached. "Goodbye, Mama! Goodbye Papa!," she yelled, as she traversed the formidable steps onto the bus. We saw her take a seat by another child, a stranger then, but no doubt a friend by the end of the ride.

With my hand, I waved goodbye, and kept waving until the bus was out of sight. With my mouth, I yelled goodbye to Eleanor, my big, brave girl. But with my heart, I quietly whispered goodbye to much, much more.


bgirl said...

oh how you were in my thoughts today as i headed past eleanor's preschool on my way to the bus stop (guess we really never quit riding once we start!).

my heart cheers for eleanor and breaks for you as you send your first baby off to 'big' school -- how is it possible that she is in kindergarten?

i remember similar photos of myself, sporting my groovy purple and white poncho and my dr. seuss lunch box. i too went on the school bus. as it happens, my mom followed it, just to be sure her promise, like yours to eleanor, came true and i would be delivered safely to school. are SUCH a good mama...i love the way you prepped her...i am taking notes over here!

jen said...

i honestly can't fathom it - they seem so young, so young to be navigating all of this and yet they do it with ease and it's heartbreaking and amazing at the same time, isn't it.

i am not ready for this yet but i know for certain it will be easier because of everyone else's writing about it. nicely done, you.

KarenP said...

I sent my little one off to her first day of Kindergarten today, too. I wouldn't let her ride the bus the first day. I couldn't quite bear missing that first entrance into the classroom. Surprisingly, I didn't cry a bit--until I read your post. You got me with your last paragraph and now I'm all teary. Sigh....


Little Monkies said...

And she is her mother's girl.

I love her, and love you.

I got teary reading this. She's a beautiful little girl. She's lucky to have such a beautiful momma.

slouching mom said...

Oh! Her skinny legs are just like Ben's, and they make my heart hurt. Why, I don't know, because I'm sure that like Ben Eleanor's actually quite strong...

She's so beautiful, and this was a beautiful post, too.

Hugs to you, proud mama!

Worker Mommy said...

You've articulated here what so many moms are thinking and feeling. Next year will be that year for me and I know it will be bittersweet.
Yay for you big girl. I hope her first day was all she expected it to be and more!

Jenn said... all of you.

This post was beautiful, and the bus? Yep, still running behind it, waving my arms.

canape said...

Brave indeed.

This was so beautiful!

Seattle Mamacita said...

like bgirl i was thinking of eleanor too and sending her best wishes on her first day. As always a lovely post especially the bits about E's strengths so wonderful to write them down in this way and although there are goodbyes there are many hellos to the exciting things that await E as an evolving independent thinker.

Lori said...

What a wonderful way to commemorate such a momentous occasion. And she is, indeed, a very brave girl!

My daughter heads off to preschool for the first time on Monday, and even that feels like a passage into something very new.

Julie Pippert said...

Sigh. beautiful.

Yes, so much of how we felt, too.

And...what Jen (#2 comment) said. Yes. that.

Using My Words

Nancy said...

What a lovely post. Your words about Eleanor will be so treasured in the future when you think back and remember what she was like at this age.

My heart's been hurting all week with the idea of having a kindergartener. I don't know why it should be so tough...

Joey said...

I am so impressed by your writing and always look forward to reading your posts. This one was very touching. It left me teary eyed.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you did it again, Allyson. You had me in tears, for you of course, knowing that Eleanor is capable and will stand up for herself. Enjoyed your heart felt prayer....and more!! Hugs, KJW

Emily said...

It makes me all weepy, just thinking about this, which is 2 or 3 years away for us. Every step seems so huge -- you are right.

And, you were absolutely right to put her on the bus. It would have totally thrown any kid to change the procedure in the second week.

painted maypole said...

oh, a great post! What a brave girl. And a brave mommy!

Gina said...

Lump in my throat. How precious.

momomax said...

she sounds darling.

my heart goes out to you mom...I years away from watching mine go off to school, but I'm dreading it already.