This past spring, well before she finished her last stint of preschool, my youngest daughter started talking about kindergarten. I knew the preschool teachers would do a great job pumping up the excitement in those last few weeks of May, but Viv couldn’t wait. By mid-April, she’d work her kinder-talk into conversations like a gifted evangelist, steering you single-mindedly towards the subject nearest and dearest to her heart.
On a Tuesday morning in early May: I want Grape Nuts for breakfast—Moooom!—I can eat Grape Nuts when I go to kindergarten in the fall! She says this with wide eyes and an open-mouthed smile, awed, as if she’s just heard news that her classroom will be made of candy and her teacher, of glitter.
In June, to the friendly lady at the grocery store who asks about our summer plans: We’re going to the beach—and then I’ll go to kindergarten!
Putting away laundry on a Sunday afternoon in July: Can I wear these shorts to kindergarten in the fall?The entire summer, if I made reference to any future event—from going bowling the next week to visiting her cousins the next month—her response remained steadfast: and after that, I’ll go to kindergarten!
Curious and social by nature (and ever wanting to be like her older siblings) I accepted this relentless anticipation like the understanding mother I aspire to be. And I wasn’t a bit surprised when her excitement spilled into our evening prayers.
Each night before bed, I lay down with Viv to read a book, sing a made-up song, and say a prayer. We do the standard issue Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep one, but like a family recipe, we’ve modified it to our liking. In its current form we give thanks for our family, ask for a soft and obedient heart, and thank God for our schools—a loose term for any activity involving a non-parental teacher.
For the last two years, the end has sounded like this: “And thank you for my schools: Sunday School and Chinese school and Preschool and Bible Study that we don’t go to anymore.” (She hasn’t been to Bible Study childcare in over two years.)
But the night preschool ended, forgoing the lingering thankfulness Bible study received, she switched her prayer up cold turkey. “Thank you God for Sunday school and,” her voice elevated an octave, “for kindergarten!” then added—as if God could forget the school calendar—“that I’ll go to in the fall.”
I can’t deny that I’m as excited as she is about this coming year. I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like to have all of them in school. And I can’t help but think back to how different it is from when I sent my first.
Nadia, our oldest, turned five the summer before she went to kindergarten. She was assigned to a doe-eyed teacher whose diploma’s ink had barely dried. (Is this what it is to be an adult? To send your baby to school and refer to her 23-year-old teacher, in relation to your own number of tree rings, as ‘practically a baby herself’?)
On the first day of school, Nadia and I walked hand in hand into the building. I stood against the gym wall while she sat in line on the floor, waiting for the sixth-grade safety patrol to lead her and her classmates to the kindergarten hallway. Parents weren’t allowed to follow the kids—this is our school’s plan to deter nervous adult lingering in the classroom.
Watching my daughter stand up and walk off, I felt my breath catch. Looking around, I was the only parent wiping away tears, which stopped me from really letting it rip. I walked back home feeling as if my heart was a piece of tenderloin at the end of a fancy buffet table that some guy in a white poufy hat just sliced off and handed to another woman; but then that woman turned around to politely ask if I could place a dollop horseradish on top of my own heart and I—blinking in disbelief—did. I didn’t cry more that day, but each breath missed a child who instead of being with me, spent the day with a teacher. And for the next few weeks, I walked around mourning a piece of myself.
But Nadia loved school. And loved her teacher (who, though young, was exceptionally trained and competent beyond measure). Soon, she started sounding out words during bedtime stories. And at dinner, she’d tell us about making patterns with beads and what it means to ‘fill a bucket.’ She would bring drawings home in her tiny backpack (stick figures, cone-headed aliens, a man and a woman and kids with a black dog wearing a red beret) all labeled F-A-M-I-L-Y in the unmistakable scratch of the newly-writing.
On the last day of that first year, with a three-year-old boy holding my hand and a baby growing in my belly, we walked to school as my heart pulsed with overwhelming gratefulness. It was on that day when I sobbed till my face was a fleshy balloon, for we had made it.
Sending my first child to school felt monumental.
Arriving at the end of the year felt miraculous.
I tried to write the young teacher a letter that I’d hand to her later that afternoon, a habit I’ve tried my best to keep. I did not want to fail at expressing just how thankful I was for the year.
Thank you for taking care, for that is what it really is, of my daughter. Thank you for teaching her—yes, for teaching her know how to write her name and read Brown Bear, Brown Bear. But thank you also for tending to her heart. Thank you for making your class a safe and nurturing place she looked forward to going to each day. Thank you. For everything.
I probably handed her the note and gave her a hug and said I can’t believe the year is over.
And here I am, eight years later, sending my youngest, my last, to kindergarten.
I can’t believe all these years are over.
So each night this past summer when Viv thanked God for kindergarten, I said my own silent prayer. Of thanks—obviously (all four kids, for the first time ever, in school, at the same time!), but also for protection and for provision. For all of them.
I don’t believe our prayers are like quarters deposited into some cosmic piggy bank that we can withdraw when we need them—like at the beginning of each school year. I pray because it aligns me with the One I’m praying to, affirming my belief that God has a plan—for the class, for the teacher, for the friends, and even their grades—for all our children, not just mine.
Maybe you are sending your first to school this year.
Or, like me, your last.
Your child might be starting middle school or maybe she will be walking through doors of a new school in a different state. Maybe you’re sending someone to the hallowed halls of higher learning. Or dropping a little one off to a preschool building with walls decorated in construction paper and cotton balls.
Maybe your heart is wrenching with sadness, or worry, or questioning. Or maybe you are so confident and excited to have your kids going to school you can hardly stand it. Maybe you feel both ways at the very same time.
Every year is new.
So we keep the habit of praying. Acknowledging our place in the plan made before the beginning of time.
“Thank you for my schools,” Viv says each night.
Thank you for kindergarten. And preschool. And college. And for every grade, and every teacher, and every student in between.