My 5-year-old daughter isn’t quite a young lady, but she’s not a toddler either. There’s magic in this in-between as my kindergartener grows into her own person. I am watching it happen right in front of me, my heart swelling and breaking over and over as my girl becomes new versions of herself.
When I drop Ember off at school, her backpack seems too big on her back, but her legs carry her quickly toward the building where she’ll spend her day. She runs to the teachers waiting to welcome her, and their faces break into grins as she reaches them and doles out hugs. The hugs aren’t an every-kid thing. No, the hugs are just an Ember thing. My extroverted eldest loves people—she is warm, kind, and loving.
Ember’s love language must be touch. When we read books, she sits half on top of me, her arm hooked through mine, making it hard for me to see the words and turn the pages. She’s always been this way—the queen of invading personal space. Sometimes Ember’s excessive touch bothers me, but I’m realizing this time is fleeting, and soon there will be miles and silence between us.
After the hugs, she skips into the building and my redheaded ball of energy is gone. Her absence is felt immediately, and I understand just how much space she takes up in our home and in my life. I sit for a minute, feeling strange in the silence without her. It’s the same feeling I have sometimes at bedtime when the girls are sleeping. Most days, I long for the evening moments when the house is tucked in and I’m just me again. I crave my brief freedom without them, but then once I’m alone, a strange emptiness consumes me. That same feeling floods me as I send her off to school.
It’s both liberating and frightening to leave your children in others’ hands. I wish I could follow Ember through her day and see this magic that is kindergarten. I picture her moving through her new spaces, the new places filled with the scents and textures of school that I loved so much. I wonder what her day is like, who she talks to, and how she fills her minutes, the minutes she is away from home. What makes her laugh? Does she cry? Is she ever lonely? I picture her in the classroom in her scratchy uniform, working hard on her lessons. I wonder who she sits next to in the lunchroom and if she has enough to eat. I can hear her laughing as she plays on the playground, her legs carrying her to new places with new friends.
I see changes in her already. She’s using her hands now when she talks and something about the rhythm of her speech is older, more mature. She’s learning how to pose for pictures; she’s learning what the world expects and demands of her. Soon, she’ll know how to make herself what others want her to be. How much longer do I have with her before she loses the joy, innocence, and confidence that is Ember Eve? When will the magic fade?
How much longer will she insist on touching every part of me when we sit and read together? How much more time do I have with her before she starts pulling away, retreating to her room, to her solitude? Will the change be like flicking off a light, or will it be a slow burn before the light fades and eventually extinguishes? Will I notice? Or will I wake up one day and realize she has pulled away into herself?
Sometimes, I see flashes of her as a teenager—long limbs and that red, glorious hair—and it stops me in my tracks. I feel my heart lurch and my breath catch in my throat. I am not ready to watch her grow into a young lady. This kindergarten magic is fleeting—a balloon drifting off into the sky and disappearing forever.
Ready or not, I will be witness to my daughter’s evolution. I will marvel at her and relish as many moments as I can. I will cheer Ember on and fight for her. I am sure I will cry. Hard or not, I am going to feel this, all of it, because this is motherhood. And this is why motherhood is the hardest job I will ever hold.
It’s worth it, this magic.