We carefully selected her socks yesterday morning. The uniform rules don’t leave a ton of room for variation, but we thoughtfully chose among the white and navy anklets and knee socks. I brushed her hair and placed the blue bow off to the side while she watched in the mirror to ensure perfect placement. Then we were off. It was the first day of school. But not really… it was her third day back to school, but my first day to see her go.
Last Friday I was still away for work. This Monday I needed to leave early to stand in front of a judge (thankfully I was not the defendant). Last Tuesday, I was there with a camera in one hand and tissues in the other, for her older sister’s first day of First Grade. But there was nothing I could do last Friday–short of quitting my job, and the thought did cross my mind–to be there for the first day of Kindergarten. So, I did something I have done many times before. I made yesterday the “first day” with full knowledge that it was not.
When I went back to work after my oldest was born, things were tough. They’re tough for every new parent that has to go back to work. To be honest, though, I was not racked with overwhelming guilt that I was leaving her. I was sad, to be sure. I was jealous of the nanny who would get to stare all day at my sweet baby’s beautiful face. I was nervous about keeping track of dirty diapers, and ounces of milk and dwindling supply of said milk. I was sad to say goodbye to the daytime television that I had grown so attached to…Ellen. My dear, Ellen. I miss her to this day. And 90210 on Soapnet.
Then again, I was happy too. I was looking forward to getting back to work. I was sure about that. I was not sure about…well, I wasn’t sure of just about anything else. But I’d made a choice. One influenced by economics and ego, by a desire to be an example to my daughter and a head full of feminist faith. A choice I did not intend to regret.
I had full confidence that I’d done my best to find the best caregiver I could. I interviewed a roster of pre-qualified and background-checked potential caregivers. I called references. I posed ridiculous hypotheticals. I only scheduled interviews for the witching hour(s)–the hours during which my sweet doll-baby of a daughter turned into a bonafide bedeviling baby witch. She screamed her head off every night from 4 to 6 causing those around her to wish they no longer had heads themselves.
The evening we met the woman who would become such an important part of our family, I handed the 3 month old red-faced screamer to her. She took this baby that even a mother had to try very hard to love from 4 to 6, and held her close. She deftly bounced and walked, rubbed her back and somehow managed to talk–answering all of my questions with as much care and attention as she was giving the baby. She was better than me at this. She was going to be awesome.
And she has been awesome. Of course, there have been bumps in the road. We long ago had to get over the fact that she would not accept our instructions as gospel. With her endearing Polish accent, her favorite way to respond to any request she disagreed with was “Hmm…’Dis is my proposal….” Her proposal would follow. And we followed her. Her advice, her lead. We followed.
She hates technology so while so many of my friends receive texts and pictures during the day, for 6 plus years I’ve had to wait to get home to get the day’s summary. She doesn’t like play dates and refuses to schedule or attend them. She can’t wash a dish to save her life, and I’m pretty sure that she is the primary Oreo cookie eater in our household. She believes in being outside as much as possible, even as snow flies and the mercury falls below zero. And she tells the kids stories about communists that lead to all kinds of interesting bedtime questions. But it works for us.
She has helped to raise our three fantastic kids, and her tolerance for their kid-witchery (it has only gotten worse since those early witching hours) is only matched by her love for them. They are her children too, and I’m okay with that. I’m more than okay with that.
She also understands how I feel. She knows from personal experience what it is like to have to go work and not be home with her own children.
She was the one to first give me permission to reinvent the “firsts.”
On the day my oldest daughter took her first (the real first) steps, I was at the office. When I got home that evening, she asked me to come to the living room. She said, “You are going to see her first steps.”
I dropped my bag and ran. I saw my baby in the living room, holding on to the couch as she had done for weeks before, and then I saw her let go and take 3 steps. She fell and smiled. We cheered. Then it occurred to me. Those weren’t the first steps.
I turned to my partner-in-mothering and said, “Those aren’t her first steps are they? She’s done it already.”
She looked at me and said firmly, “No. Those were her first steps. Nothing happens the first time until you see it.”
I cried and she hugged me, and we’ve operated under that principle ever since.
So, yesterday was the first day of Kindergarten with my sweet middle child. It was a great day. And I was so happy to be there to see it.
For the sake of the children, I add the following blanket disclaimer to all Goodbye Chicken posts: Any story about poop and any other gross or weird stuff done/said/experienced by any child referenced therein is entirely made up–so future friends, employers, lovers and voters shall not use said story against them. Of course, any story, or part thereof, about children who are awesome, smart, beautiful and kind or otherwise good is entirely true.