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The Big Day

Well, the big day finally came, and as the
days counted down towards yesterday I began to yearn for someone to
simply rip the band-aid off for me and start the school year,
already. The anticipation, the wallowing, just became harder and
harder to bear as the day drew closer.

I really didn’t think it would be so hard for me, but there
it was. I’ve spent Maddie’s whole life protecting her,
and yesterday morning I purposefully sent her out into the world of
bullies and disappointments and Columbine massacres, and called it
“for her own good”. And that’s just hard.

But I’m not here to wallow – I know I’ve done
that in spades. Here, then, is how the morning really went:

6:55 p.m. Sunday night – Maddie
finally can’t take it any longer and begs to go ahead and go
to bed. It’s only five minutes early, but shows her
readiness. Her lunch is made. Her snacks are packed. Her things are
all labeled. Her outfit is picked out, ironed, and hanging on her
door. There is literally nothing else I can do for her.

6:20 a.m. Monday morning – I go in to awaken Maddie, who
squints at the light streaming into her dark room, rolls over, and
says, “The first waking up part is really hard, but I
don’t care because today I’m going to

6:22 a.m. Maddie is dressed.

We all eat our breakfast cake – a cinnamon bundt cake we now
start every school year with – and talk around the breakfast
table. Brian’s working from home on Monday so he can walk
Maddie to and from school, and she’s giddy with excitement.

7:05 a.m. Maddie asks, “How many more minutes until we can
leave for school?” “Fifteen,” I answer.

7:07 a.m. Maddie asks, “Now how many more minutes?”

Maddie asks this five more times.

7:20 a.m. Maddie has her backpack strapped on her shoulders and is
dancing impatiently in place to get out the door. Cora’s
piled into the wagon, my camera is in hand, and our caravan heads

7:25 a.m. As we’re walking down the street, Maddie skips and
says, “My dream is finally coming true! I’m getting to
go to school!” I can only hope she’ll remember this
when she’s a teenager.

7:33 a.m. We intercept Maddie’s friends Cody and Elise, and
take a picture of the threesome with their backpacks. The girls are
grinning wildly in their backpacks and plaid dresses, and
Cody’s already exhibiting a boy-like coolness in his pose,
though his grin still comes through.

7:40 a.m. We meet the crossing guard, and the kids listen solemnly
as she instructs them on the finer points of school crossings.
Puffed with importance, they hustle into the intersection behind
the octagonal sign.

7:46 a.m. We fold into the larger stream of families swimming
towards the school. Mommies’ smiles become more glued in
place, and Daddies begin to mutter about “stupid
allergies” as they wipe their eyes.

The children continue to run ahead, straining at the leash, never
looking back. We dump the wagon outside and head into the school,
Maddie pressing on towards her room. We pause a couple times for
pictures, but try not to be “that family” (though
clearly we are) and keep moving.

At the door, we take one final photo before going in.
Maddie’s already running around, discovering things and
waving at new friends. There is one scary moment, when Maddie goes
to hang her backpack up. At Maddie’s preschool, she had a
hook right underneath her name, where she was supposed to hang her
bag every day. In her kindergarten room, she went to find her
cubby, only to discover a boy had already hung his backpack under
her cubby. Maddie froze, and I saw a flash of fear across her face
– a moment of panic, of “I have no idea what to do here
and all the rules have changed” kind of look. I calmly
suggested she ask the teacher, who told her to use any available
hook in the room. Relieved to understand the new parameters, Maddie
hung up her bag and went to her new friends.

We gradually pull ourselves out of the room, reluctant to leave but
knowing we have to. Cora runs to Maddie for one last hug, and then
we turn and walk out. As we leave the building, we see friends
bringing in their own children – some parents grinning, some
outright sobbing. But we know we’re part of a larger
community, right in our neighborhood, all going through the same
thing. And I take comfort in that.

So that’s how the morning drop-off went: smoothly, without a
hitch. I came home, misty-eyed but determined to be present for
Cora for the rest of the day. And for the most part I was.

But in the interest of truth here, I have to confess that I did
have one not-so-great part, which resulted in a rather spectacular

But that’s a story for tomorrow.


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