You let go of my hand and walked slowly through the door.

You turned your chestnut head to look at me one more time, and then you blew me a kiss. My heart stopped. And then you disappeared into a crowd of 3-year olds and never looked back.

You still don’t.

You survived that first day of school and all the rest that came after. It was I who had a harder time knowing you would never be the same.

You thrive in this world filled with friends and books and activities. You soak in every morsel of learning and jump in at every opportunity to join in something new.

You are exactly where you are supposed to be in this moment.

It hasn’t always been easy. There have been many bumps along the way.

We have endured broken hearts because of a friend’s betrayal or the ramifications of a bad grade. You’ve learned that some people are not always kind, and sometimes that person may be an adult you trust. You’ve set goals and overachieved, and sometimes the outcome of a lot of hard work was not as you hoped.

But each and every day you wake with a smile, and with a quick hug, you let go of my hand and venture out into this world.

And as we’ve approached your 8th grade graduation, I watch as your spirit grows in lockstep with your shoe size.  I am awestruck by your knowledge and how steadfast you are in your beliefs. I marvel at your compassion and kind heart.

I’ve seen glimpses of the woman you are becoming, and she is strong and beautiful and good.

I look at you with wonder as these years pass quickly by. Who showed you how to use your wings and taught you to fly so high?

Watching you growing up isn’t as I thought it would be. It doesn’t happen gradually, bit by bit. Instead, it occurs like rapid-fire in bursts. Oftentimes you walk out the door in the morning, and come home seemingly a different individual than the one I kissed goodbye earlier that day.

And as another chapter closes in your life, you make it hard for me to feel sad, because all I see is the tremendous potential resting at your feet. I know you will continue to reach for the stars.

As you move on to high school, I hope you will continue to challenge yourself and never be afraid of failure. Swing for the fences every time you come up to the plate, and know that when you falter, your family will be here, cheering you on no matter what.

Keep trying to find things that fuel your soul, not what others think is cool. You’ve done a great job at marching to the beat of your own drummer up to this point, and it’s one of your best qualities. Don’t sacrifice who you are, who you were meant to be, to obtain the attention of people who don’t appreciate your authentic self. 

Use the right measurements. Life is not measured in the amount of likes you get on Instagram, numbers on a scale, or even your GPA. And there isn’t a “thing” you can buy with the money you make that can fill a void in your soul. Always remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so work on building your brain and growing your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

Be gentle with hearts—a boy’s, your sisters’, your friends’, your parents’, and most especially, your own. Love of any kind is a beautiful and delicate experience, and remember to treat others as you would like to be treated, no matter the circumstance.

Know that the best is yet to come. High school and college (and sometimes years after that) is a time to experiment and discover who you want to be and where you want to fit in this world.  Believe that you have the best that life has to offer sitting in front of you.

And please, please get some sleep. You are a joy, except for when you are exhausted. The next four years are going to be jam-packed, so make sure you carve out some time for some shut-eye, and I promise you we will all enjoy them a lot more.

Thanks for letting go of my hand, sweet child, and being patient as I stay to watch you walk slowly through those doors. 

I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. I couldn’t love you more.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is the mom to three tween daughters, a communications consultant and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays http://playdatesonfridays.com/