So, today Dear Daughter started middle school. It was inevitable.
You have a child. You bring her home, teach her to eat, to sleep in her own bed, to walk, to babble about bunnies and bananas and oatmeal and why the sky is blue and why up is up and down is down. Together you read books, look at pictures, spend rainy Sunday afternoons in art galleries, make hats with leaves and sticks, chunk rocks into lakes on steamy summer mornings. You fuss, you worry, you laugh, you despair over the piece of her own hair she cut in preschool, the spilled juice turning to sticky on the kitchen floor, the missed bedtimes, the lost earring (mine), the estimate from the orthodontist.
Each day is built upon the foundation of the day before, and you have to be careful what planks you choose. Some will flex, some will creak, some will wobble and protest with each step that lands, fair or foul. Others will hold, solid and steady, lending their strength to those less certain. In the end, the sum is usually greater than the total of its parts.
And so we come to this, the first day of sixth grade. Another milestone, and a scary one.
Dear Daughter is bright and smart. She is comfortable with following rules, but is creative enough to walk, dance, fly and march to her own specific drummer. School rarely presents any traumas or obstacles, excepting the occasional project left until the last minute, or the mean girl who zeros in on whatever she perceives to be a flaw in those around her. We've weathered six years -- counting kindergarten -- of first school days before, but this one, oh this one, this one friends, is different.
Why? It's different because in past years I've sent my little girl to school, but this year, I'm dropping off a 'tweenager, someone teetering on the brink of teendom; definitely not my little girl anymore, but not quite an independent young lady. This first day she locked herself in the bathroom, spent especial time on her hair, scrubbing her face, putting in the new contact lenses she begged of me this summer to replace the ever-thickening eyeglasses. The omnipresent orthodontia she could do nothing about, but hey, a little lipgloss draws the attention away from bands and brackets. She's almost as tall as I am, wears shoes that would swamp my pathetic little feet, and accessorizes with a vengeance--the shell necklace from Hawaii, the cerulean earrings in the shape of a star, the flipped-ponytail hairdo copied from her best friend (who also seems to have convinced her suddenly of the value of regular hair-brushing). Her messenger bag, though a bargain on a sale day, is hip and funky. Her lunchbox is a single color, and bears no team or cartoon logo. She packs her own lunch now, thank you, and insists on being dropped off far enough away from school that her friends --old and new-- cannot see her square, dorky mom reaching for one last hug and maybe, just maybe a quick kiss.
She jumps out of the Subaru and walks away without looking back. I wave anyway, and watch for a moment, hesitating only slightly in the seemingly-endless line of Honda Odysseys and Toyota Previas, wielded fiercely by those micro-managing moms who don't have to be at a job in exactly 23 minutes, who have the luxury of lingering, longing after their daughters and sons.
I watch, and then make my turn. I think of her periodically during the day and wonder what she's doing and how she's getting along. I know she's fine. By now, my thoughts and worries are for myself. We raise them to leave us, and then why are we surprised when they do? She's not quite left me yet, but will someday. Today was a first step. They'll get easier for her, but never for me.