She is out of my sight less than five minutes after walking through the door. I introduce my husband and myself to the cheerful instructors, hoping they don’t notice my eyes flicking past them in search of my three-year-old. I try to calm a wave of the new-parent nerves, focusing on the smiling photos on the walls, carefully labeled cubbies for tiny coats, and the artful atmosphere of what could be my daughter’s first school. Preschool– it’s the very beginning of her long journey towards adulthood.
I dimly recall writing an inquiry to the head teacher after my child’s first birthday in an attempt to prepare myself for this. I was praised for my enthusiasm regarding my daughter’s education, but assured it was too early to begin touring as she wouldn’t be eligible until age three. Age three was so far away. I placed my thoughts of preschool on the shelf, and engrossed myself in teaching my daughter to walk, speak, and begin understanding the world around her. For two more years she was all mine; just laughing, playing BFF’s in our own special, safe little realm. Those two years are gone.
There will be new significant influences, teachers, and friends to learn from. She’s going to change. Other people are going to take part in shaping the little human she is, which feels a touch… daunting? Our little mommy/daughter bubble will pop. In one way or another I’ve taken part in the majority of her activities, and experiences, until now. I don’t even know what they teach children in preschool these days. It’s not going to be like what I remember as a child. I have no idea what to expect. How did we get here so fast?
I walk with my husband down the hall to find our daughter in the music room, sitting among several other children. She is smiling, making arm movements along with the teacher, clearly not a victim of new-student nerves. We observe, remaining hidden in the doorframe. She’s not looking for us. She’s looking at the children participating around her, and taking delight in being a part of their group. She is so happy, confident, and I can see she just…belongs. Her confidence gives me confidence, and my nerves turn to joy.
We inspect the other rooms, colorful spaces filled with a mixture of activities I know my daughter will love. With contagious enthusiasm the instructors explain their teaching methods. I listen, picturing her days come September. Our daughter enters the room, heading for the row of easels set by the window. A teacher materializes to place a plastic apron over her head, careful not to interrupt her focus. A moment later she’s joined by another child, and they stand together in their own world, painting away. Occasionally they check each other’s work, smiling and pointing out things I can’t quite make-out. I see the potential friendships, connections, and my spirits soar.
We thank the instructors for their time, and our daughter chirps “Goodbye,” her little hand waving with a force most reserve for swatting flies. We walk to the car and her tiny voice says, “Daddy, I need a backpack. An Elmo one,” her eyes studying the sea of little backpacks disappearing into waiting cars. “You can have any backpack you want,” he replies, flashing me an amused grin as if to say, And so it begins. Her face is glowing. “Do you think you’d like to go to school here?” I ask. There is no hesitation in her response. As we drive away I’m thinking about one teacher’s remark. “It’s as though she’s always been here.” I sit envisioning her excited little figure waving at me as she skips through the preschool doors, out of view, fearlessly beginning this next phase of life. I leave inspired with a fresh perspective.
My daughter is ready to learn new things, create lasting friendships, and explore the world in a more independent manner. Yes, it’s the end of an era, the end of the sweet mommy & me, deliciously wonderful baby years I’ll dearly miss; but it’s also the beginning of something marvelous. I realize our bubble isn’t going to pop. In fact, it’s widening. I am not losing, but gaining more of her in everything she discovers, and in every way she grows. There will be new interactions, questions, and challenges to face. My guidance and love will always be a necessity. She still needs me.
There is still time for her to be my baby. Preschool is just the beginning of this journey, something to slowly ease us into what’s to come. In the coming years she will be out of my sight more and more as she gradually progresses from toddler to child, teen and finally, adult. When she reappears I’ll be waiting to share in her moments of sadness, joy, confusion, and hope, forever a part of her flourishing bubble. Slowly she will drift out of my sight, but sight isn’t what binds us together. That is something far stronger.