Last-day tears

Wasn't it just a minute ago that I was slumped over my steering wheel in a church parking lot, crying after leaving two-year-old Nora at her first day of preschool?

But there I was again this week, in the same church parking lot, snuffling back tears as I backed out of the parking space after a last-day-of-school ice cream social.

Back in September, I had to walk out of that school in the morning to the sound of my sweet daughter crying, worried that I wasn't coming back for her. Slowly but surely, her astonishingly patient teacher and I were able to convince her that yes, I would come back. Every time. So why not quit crying and start playing?

After a few rough weeks, that's just what she did. She'd spend the day learning letters and songs and classroom routines, and I'd come back in the afternoon to find her happily reading a book or dancing to some music Ms. Dorothy had put on in the classroom. Later in the school year, I had the hardest time getting her to leave the classroom. She'd see me in the doorway, run over for a hug, and then dash back to the stack of toys she'd been playing with or into a playhouse until I finally dragged her to the car to go home. How's that for progress?

But now it's all over until next fall, and I'm taking it kind of hard. (How's she taking it? Just fine. I assured her we'd go to school again, first to a little July session at a different school, and then back at regular school next fall. She made a bit of a frown when I told her Ms. Dorothy wouldn't be her teacher anymore, but then she moved on to coloring on her easel and swatting our twice-her-size dog when he licked her. She's fine.) I'll miss my twice-a-week free time, for sure. But I'll also miss seeing Nora let go of my hand and go sit happily next to a friend. I'll miss her coming home singing songs that I didn't teach her. And I'll miss all the gossip about her classmates.

And I'll miss Ms. Dorothy, I must admit. Her patience, after decades of teaching, was an inspiration to me, and when she told me it was all right that Nora was anxious and upset those first weeks of school, or that I didn't have to fret about Nora taking her time to get potty trained, I believed her. I benefited from that kind of experience-based wisdom and gentle guidance just as surely as Nora benefited from the lessons on identifying shapes, how to be a good friend and so many other things Ms. Dorothy taught her.

So yes, I'm sad about the school year ending. But all that moping is balanced with deep pride in how far my daughter has come and how she's found a way to not just survive, but thrive in school.

Now we just have to figure out a way to survive the summer. Yikes.