I sat on the glider of my front porch in the cool of the morning air, not wanting to go back inside the house. It's too quiet. Too empty. My throat burned from the acid of my empty stomach, I try to quench the fire with a swig of diet soda, it offered little relief. My mind drifted over the past, few short years as I attempted to recapture every memory and store them in a permanent filing cabinet in my head. I get lost there for awhile.
Today was the first day of kindergarten for my second... my last.... my baby. It went well, I suppose. The three of us decided to walk to school this morning to avoid the chaos of cars, trucks, moms, dads, grandparents and kids, the typical commotion that crowded the already overpopulated entrance to the cold, brick building that was becoming my children's second home. As we drew closer to the steel and glass doors propped open by two plump fifth grade patrols, my oldest daughter looked up at me and gave very specific instructions. "Mom?" "Yes?" I replied. "Just take Laney straight to her class, ok?" she proceeded. The shock of the dagger my nine year just threw at my heart created a magnetic force between us. I pulled her close against my side as we continued to approach the doorway. "Can I at least hug you bye?" I asked. Cassidy looked to me as one corner of her perfectly shaped lips turned up slightly. I didn't want to embarrass her in front of every kid and their extended family, so I squeezed her tightly against my side and whispered in her ear. "Have a great first day of fourth grade. I love you." Again, she flashed me a crooked smile as she pulled away. I squeezed Laney's little hand even tighter as a reaction to Cassidy's rejection.
As we turned the corner I looked back over my shoulder at Cassidy as she pranced off in the opposite direction, never looking back. Laney and I made our way down the white hallway, I felt as if I was walking death row. The walls seemed so tall and almost closing in on us, the door to the kindergarten classrooms at the other end seemed so far away. I pulled Laney slightly closer to my side as she began to slip her hand away from mine. I clung to her little fingers as long as I could.
My baby left with strangers
We entered through the first classroom, bodies big and small stood in our path as backpacks flung here and there. Moms bent over their children as Dads stood uncomfortably crowded against the long counter. We managed to twist and turn ourselves until we reached the next classroom. It was less claustrophobic there. Laney only had nine other students in her class and therefore many bodies less than the other classroom. I glanced over to the huge, metal, gray box that stood without a front side. Little hooks in a single file line stood at attention across the back of the box....the cubby. Each hook had a child's name above it. I quickly skimmed my eyes across the line of names until they stopped at 'LANEY'. Three hooks from the right side of the cubby, my daughter's name. My mind was instantly drowning in the memories of just a few short years prior, when I had a much smaller Laney propped on my hip and Cassidy's little hand in mine. Same classroom and I believe even the same hook in the metal cubby.
I sat her backpack upon the long counter that stretched across the back of their classroom. As I was pulling her things out, Laney snatched them from me stating calmly that she could do it. I gave her a tender smile as my heart cracked once again. I handed her the backpack and she proceeded to the hook that would hold her belongings for the next nine months. Her teacher walked over as Laney glared up in frustration and announced that she could not reach the hook. The teacher smiled and explained, that she was allowed to step up into the cubby giving her a slightly better advantage of introducing her backpack to the hook.
Laney made her way around the cubby to find her chair at a long table filled with blocks of all shapes, colors and sizes. She stopped at the chair that had been placed in front of another name tag fixed to the table with her name across it. She plopped down. I knelt down beside her as she watched two other children play together with the blocks on their table. She looked a little uneasy for the first time, she had been trying to leave me to go to school for over a year now. "Are you ok?" I whispered. She nodded her head, shoulders scrunched to her ears as her chin dipped towards her chest. "Are you sure?" I probed again and once again her little head bobbled up and down. "You are going to have so much fun today. Mind your teacher and be a good girl." Her eyes met mine in agreement. Her tiny arms flew around my neck and squeezed me tight. "Will you hand me some of those blocks before you go, Mommy?" "Yes" I whispered back. As I slid a handful of the blocks over in front of her, I reached out for another hug, she gave me another tight squeeze, "I love you Mommy." the tiny voice softly said with confidence. "I love you too." I replied, as I stood to my feet. I flashed one last smile as I turned to leave my baby sitting there amongst strangers.
Heavy Feet - Heavy Heart
The walk back down the long hall of death row was even longer. I felt like I couldn't get out of there quick enough but yet my feet were so heavy. The tears were going to bust out at any moment. I quickly glanced around at the other parents somewhat embarrassed that I was fighting so hard to hold back the water works when I seemed to be the only one. How could these other moms leave their babies so easily? Was there something wrong with me? My overprotective nature, a deformation of my character? The feeling of the mangled mess of nerves throughout my body was making me nauseous. The embarrassment took over the inside of my gut, that this seemed to only happening to me. Had the bond I felt for my kids been that abnormal? I tried to rationalize the situation to keep me steady and sane as I made my way to the school lobby. Maybe it's because I am a stay at home mom. Maybe it's because most of these parents work through the day and have already been through this, as they left their children with other childcare providers, previous to the first day of kindergarten. Regardless of their reasons, this made me feel even more alone, detached from society. As I found myself standing in the lobby amongst other parents that I had befriended over the past school years of Cassidy. I broke slightly. A few tears escaped my already tired eyes. I flinched as the other parents looked sympathetically to me. My feet heavy again not wanting to leave my children behind, I forced them to move one foot at a time towards the door.
Then the quick departure of my oldest daughter haunted me. I turned and went back. I just had to check. I walked back around the corner of where Cassidy had disappeared to earlier. Her teacher standing in the doorway smiling. "Can I just peek in?" I asked in desperation. "Yes" her warm smile made it a little easier. I poked my head around the door facing and found my daughter not only oblivious to me standing there but sitting cozily next to young boy with dark hair. They were scribbling something and chatting together. Clearly I was the only one that felt lost, lonely, scared.
I turned away a little more depressed but in the same moment a little more proud, that in spite of my emotional instability I had manage to get my kids to this point of their life embedded with confidence and courage. My pride now added to the struggle against the tears and I slowly walked away empty handed.