My daughter’s hand feels warm in mine as she looks around the colorful nursery school classroom. We are both nervous. She squeezes my hand a bit tighter than usual. Or maybe it is me who is holding onto her tighter - I can’t really tell.
The other kids laugh and jump during open play and I notice she is tempted to join them. The walls are covered with scribbles of the letters of their first names on construction paper, potty training charts and signs about the month of March. No one seems to notice us among the chaos in the room.
I bend down to my daughter’s level and see her hazel eyes are opened wide in awe.
“What do you think about school?” I ask.
“Wow,” she responds softly. I can feel her hand slowly loosening from mine and I reluctantly let go against my instinct to pull her closer. She shyly begins playing with the toys scattered around the room. I lose sight of her brown hair amidst the other kids and my heart races for a moment until I catch a glimpse of her again. A redheaded teacher approaches and tells me about the pre-school curriculum. I nod, not really listening.
It feels unnatural to be on the sidelines and I shift around uncomfortably, not really sure of where to stand. Within a few minutes she is fully participating in the classroom activities while I watch from the sidelines, fighting the urge to hover.
It is not my daughter who needs to be prepared for nursery school – it’s me.
When my daughter was born, I made the decision to stay at home with her. Without any hesitation, I left behind my ten-year career as an attorney in New York City, and I have never regretted this choice. There have been hard days, frustrating days, snow days and sick days, but most of all, there have been good days filled with love and laugher.
What strikes me most about the days with my daughter is their level of intimacy. I dress her in the morning, change her diapers, cook her food, put her to sleep, wash her hands and brush her teeth. I know which socks she is wearing. I know which Sesame Street character is on her diaper. I know which kids she played with at the playground. I know her moods. I cherish our closeness, the way that no one knows her the same way that I do.
Her attendance at nursery school will result in the loss of some of this intimacy, which feels both strange and sad to me even though it is inevitable. This will be a step towards independence and privacy, and the first of many she will take as she grows up. I know that I must encourage her to enjoy new experiences, but these two hours away from me each morning are just the beginning. In a few years, she will be in school for a full day, which seems inconceivable to me.
The administrator invites me to tour the rest of the campus and to leave my daughter in the classroom so she can experience nursery school by herself. My first instinct is to say “no,” but instead I approach her and ask whether she wants to stay with the class or look at the rest of the school with mommy.
My daughter is firm in her response: “I stay in class. Bye Mommy!” She pushes my legs as if to kick me out of the classroom. I am so proud of her for speaking up and embracing a new experience, but my heart cracks just a little a bit. Her response is unexpected and it stings. Usually she wants to do everything with me.
She runs to join the other students with a big smile on her face. When the door closes behind us, I feel like I left a part of myself behind.
My daughter seems confident, but she is still so little, barely two years old. Is she really brave enough to stay in this new place, without me? Am I brave enough to walk out of the room and leave her with these strangers? When I think about sending my daughter to school, I worry about whether the teachers will zip her coat all the way up when they take her outside. I wonder if she will speak up if she doesn’t like the snack being offered. I cringe at the thought of another kid picking on her when the teacher’s back is turned.
We finish our school tour and the administrator leads me to the gym class. The room is big and full of noise from the pitter-patter of the kids running around on the hard, shiny floor. Because I am listening for it, I hear my daughter’s voice clearly over the commotion. She runs up to me and I feel myself exhale when her body snuggles into mine. She seems happy to see me but also happy to have been on her own for a while.
The redheaded teacher comes over to tell me that my daughter had been okay despite some initial confusion about why I had left the classroom. That small fact gives me some comfort. I wanted her to miss me, just a little bit.
When it’s time to leave, my daughter places her hand in mine and I hold onto it tightly. I ask her about her morning and she happily describes the activities she did in the classroom. I hang onto her every word, wanting more details, wishing I had been there. I feel left out from the excitement of the morning, like I was relegated to the sidelines.
I hoard these intimate moments with her, but the truth is, these moments don’t belong only to me. They are hers too.
When I close my eyes and envision her growing up, I see her laughter spilling out into the universe, spreading joy to everyone she meets. I know in my heart that my daughter needs to live out there in the big, beautiful world, not just by my side on the floor of our sunny playroom. Every new experience molds and shapes her; nursery school is just the first step towards becoming her own person. My role as a mother is to embrace the independent child she is becoming as she grows up.
When she releases my hand in September to enter her new classroom, I am certain that every cell in my body will protest, but because I love and breathe her so deeply, I will let her go.
Written by Becky Tountas. After ten years as an attorney, Becky retired from the practice of law to become a stay-at-home mom to her daughter. This gave her the opportunity to develop her lifelong love of writing. Her essays have been published on Scary Mommy, the Huffington Post and Mamalode, among others. Becky blogs at www.beckytountas.com and can also be found on Facebook.
Image by Kelli Seeley.