My baby isn’t a kindergartener anymore. This summer, she will occupy that nebulous in-between zone, between kindergarten and first grade--she'll be a rising first-grader. Last summer she was brimming with a mixture of excitement and nervousness about this new big step. She loved preschool; I loved it, too. I know she missed her preschool friends this past year. In September, we drove past the brick preschool building and waved to it. I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw her lip trembling, just a little bit, but it trembled.
My heart trembled, too. Kindergarten was a big world for her, a world mostly filled with good people—nice children and amazing teachers and lots of wonderful things to learn. But there were some mean kids, too, and some difficult moments, and some injustices and disappointments along the way. Sometimes friends didn’t act the way she expected them to, and sometimes she didn’t understand everything they did, or how to fix the things that went wrong.
At night I’d lie in her bed with the lights off and she tell me things about her day: worries, happy things, or silly things. Children need this quiet time, the time to reconnect, and to talk about the day. T. would sometimes ask me questions, and I’d answer them as best I could.
S. didn’t sit next to me today at circle time, she’d say. Why do you think she didn’t? Or, Mama, what did you do when you didn’t play with someone at recess? Or, When will I learn to read?
Last night, we cleaned up her room together. Then she curled up next to me, her head on my chest, her hair smelling like a mixture of shampoo and swimming pool. "I'm not a kindergartener anymore," she said.
"You're a first grader," I said giving her a happy squeeze. "A rising first grader." But then I noticed that her lip was trembling. She's like that--for all her easy-going, sunny exterior, she feels things deeply, they bubble up inside of her until her lip trembles, and her eyes brim over with tears.
She learned to read and write and do math this year, but she learned about people, too. She came home constantly with stories about who in her class liked what, or what so-and-so was doing on the weekend. She astounded her teachers with her powers of empathy and her observations about people. At story time one afternoon, the teacher read a book about a grouchy bear, who liked to be left alone when he was grouchiest. She raised her hand:
“My brother is like that, too,” she told the class. “He needs his space, just like grouchy bear.”
At the pool yesterday I watched her jump from the edge into the blue water. She still seems so little to me, still in the same swimsuit she wore last summer. Sometimes when I look at T. it’s as if no time at all has passed. But then I see her again: aren’t her legs a little longer? Her cheeks a little narrower? Her gestures are a little more grow-up now: hands on hips, stamping feet, a toss of her head now and again. She reads out loud to herself every day now and it’s then, when I hear her voice rising and falling from her room, and I peek in to see her sitting cross-legged on the floor, that I realize how much she’s grown.
A whole year's worth of growth. Throughout it all, she was still my amazing girl, still the biggest-hearted, most generous, and bravest person I have ever known.
I'm making a cake today. In the crock pot. T. and I made it last year, and dubbed it the "Bad Day Cake". But today we're dusting off the recipe, calling it the "End of Year Cake" and bringing it to the pool tonight for a tasty end to a poolside meal. I'm looking forward to this afternoon, when work is all done, and the only complicated decisions out there are what to make for dinner.