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A Maddie-Sized Hole In The Day

Several of you have written in
congratulating me on Maddie’s successful first day of
preschool. And pretty much all of you wanted to know one thing: how
did Mommy and Cora fare on that first day?

The answer – probably not quite as well as Maddie did.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too teared up about the first
day. I was nervous and worried, largely in anticipation of
Maddie’s reaction. I’d spent so much time trying to
orchestrate the morning for maximum smoothness that I hadn’t
really thought about myself in the situation. I mean, I knew it was
a big day, my baby growing up, blah blah blah, but I hadn’t
had a chance to wallow in the feelings.

After I dropped Maddie off at her room I
walked into a conference room where they’d set up breakfast
pastries for the parents to hang out and meet each other and chat.
One of my friends whose child is also in the school came over to
chat, and she said, “I have to admit, Jen, I’m
impressed with how you’re holding up. When I dropped my
daughter off for the first time I sobbed the whole morning.
You’re doing great!”

I nodded absently as I tried to keep Cora from gulping (someone
else’s) cup of coffee from a table, and admired how awesome I
was. Cora was having a bit of a hard time leaving her Mah-Mah, and
kept whimpering and asking when it would be time to pick her up
again, so I finally hustled her out of the school and into the car.

I’d planned a busy morning so Cora wouldn’t notice the
empty car seat next to her – lots of errands, culminating in
a trip to the mall complete with a ferris wheel ride (yeah, in the
middle of the mall, I know) and lunch out. So I climbed cheerily
into the car and said to Cora, “Ok, let’s get started
on this great day!”

I put my hands on the steering wheel, ready to take the car into
reverse, and caught a glimpse in the rear-view mirror of
Maddie’s empty car seat. And I realized that I was driving
away, leaving my child alone in this building for the next five
hours. And more importantly, leaving a piece of my heart in the
building for the next five hours.

And at that moment, I simply wanted to curl up in my bed and pull
the covers over my head and wait out those five hours. Four hours
fifty-eight minutes, four hours fifty-seven minutes, four hours
fifty-six minutes . . . There seemed to be no reason to do anything
else, and even if there was, I didn’t think I could make
myself do it; I couldn’t think of a reason to go on. I was a
machine with a missing cog, and wanted to sit in bed, broken, and

I didn’t, of course; Cora asked me a question and snapped me
back to reality and to the sweet girl still waiting for me in the
car. We headed off to run our errands, and for the most part I did
well, though I did start crying in the office supply store when
Brian called to check on me. Cora held up well, but spent most of
our shopping time picking things out for Maddie: she insisted on a
new purple dress for Maddie, some very cool lace tights, and picked
out a special celebration cookie with sprinkles on it. And as soon
as we saw Maddie, Cora grabbed her and shrieked, “Maddie! I
bought you a cookie with sprinkles on it!”

Giving gifts is clearly one of her love languages.

So Cora and I survived, two army wives huddled together for
protection, shared memories keeping us warm until our loved one
returns to us. We start sentences with things like, “Remember
when Maddie . . .” and smile together, clutch each other a
little tighter.

We’ll get the hang of this soon enough, I know. And Cora will
quickly realize that she’s inadvertently stumbled into a
sibling goldmine: hours and hours with Mommy All. By. Herself. But
for now we’re still figuring out our rhythms: Cora was
excited about tomorrow being the first day of open gym until she
learned Maddie won’t be going with her, and then she cried
for fifteen minutes. I, too, had to stop myself from laying out a
leotard for Maddie, turning instead to her school clothes.

The landscape of our days has changed, and I’m still having
trouble navigating the altered topography. Soon enough I’ll
stop crashing into new mountains, but it’ll take a while
before I stop stumbling into my Maddie-sized holes.


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