First day of school

Nora on her first day of school. She made me hold the Dora lunchbox while she pumped herself up.
Nora on her first day of school. She made me hold the Dora lunchbox while she pumped herself up.

I didn't sleep well the night before Nora's first day of preschool last week.

My brain was whirling with the little details -- "I've got to remember to throw an ice pack in her lunch box," "I'd better tell the teacher about how Nora's face gets all splotchy when she cries so no one mistakes it for hives," "Are we sure the spare pants we're keeping in her backpack still fit?" But I'm sure the big-picture stuff was going on in the background. What if we're doing the wrong thing starting Nora on preschool this early? Are we rushing her childhood forward too much? What if she's not ready for this? What if we're not ready for this?

I woke up in the morning groggy, exhausted. But Nora woke up ready to go.

"Go to school?" she asked me as soon as I entered her room.

"That's right, kiddo," I answered. "It's the first day of school."

She abbreviated her usual forever-long getting-out-of-bed ritual, dithered not at all over what to wear (the green dress with the pink flower -- OF COURSE it was going to be that one), and tore through breakfast so fast we ended up ahead of schedule by about 20 minutes.

In short, she was ready long before I was, in ways large and small. I took a deep breath, handed her her prized Dora the Explorer lunchbox, took a whole bunch of pictures with an unsteady hand, and then loaded her into the car.

I pep-talked her all the way to the school, and held her hand on the sidewalk as we walked in. She walked right to her classroom (I guess she remembered where it was from when we visited during an orientation the week before), waited impatiently for me to put her stuff into a basket with her name on it, and then we walked in. I stepped slowly, but that wasn't cutting it for Nora. She shoved past me and muscled right in, making a beeline to the bucket of little plastic animals waiting on the classroom floor.

I hung her Dora lunchbox on its appointed peg (and hoped it wouldn't get mixed up with the TWO other identical Dora lunchboxes -- or that at least those kids' moms had packed a better lunch than I did) while kiddo went to work unloading those little plastic animals and the teacher said hello.

And then I realized I hadn't really prepared for this.

I mean, I was ready for hesitation, or even some tears the first day of preschool. But Nora walked right in like she owned the place, leaving me to be the one feeling lost and out of place.

At orientation, the teachers had suggested the parents make a quick, nondramatic exit. So I gave Nora a quick hug, told her I'd be back after lunch, and waved as I walked swiftly out the door.

And then I stood alone in the hallway.

Now what?

I went home (OK, fine, yes -- I cried a little bit on the drive back to the house) and attempted to work, accomplishing almost nothing and having to fight off the urge to creepily drive by the school's playground at the time I knew Nora's class would be out there. Time crept by, except when it flew, and then it was time to pick that kiddo up.

I walked into the room, and Nora let out a loud "MAMA!" when she saw me. She grinned and made her way -- calmly, coolly -- toward me. The teacher told me she'd had a great day -- no tears, just constant out-loud reassurances to herself and to anyone who would listen that "Mama coming back soon!" and that was that. She even kept her glasses on all day!

She wanted a nap as soon as we got home and slept like a log, but when she woke up she was eager to tell me about her day and what she did with all those "babies" in her class. It was weird trying to piece together the events of the day from an unreliable narrator -- usually I know what she's doing every second of every day because I'm there. But it was also sort of great. She had an experience independent of mama, and it was a good one. Maybe, just maybe, she's going to be OK in this life. A pretty far extrapolation, I realize, but reason for hope nonetheless.

And in the shorter term, there's plenty of reason to hope that she'll be OK in this preschool. The day after her start, she woke up and immediately asked me: "Go to school?" And she's repeated the question every morning, ever since. So I'm optimistic about Day Two. And all the days after. Heck, maybe I'll even calm down enough to have some of those independent experiences myself!