My four year old daughter started kindergarten last week. A February baby, she’s been excited about this for some time and has been deemed “ready” by daycare providers, friends, and relatives alike. Coraline started counting down to her first day when school was 6 months away. We attended the school for orientation visits and were given a free (pink!) backpack. We purchased her lunch kit. We bought a first day of school outfit. We met her teachers. My husband, Owen, and I modified our work schedules so that he could drop her off at school in the mornings and I’d pick her up each afternoon. We were ready.
Except that I wasn’t.
The day before her first day, I woke up feeling fine. The morning had its typical harried start as we ran about the house in a flurry attempting to feed, bathe, and clothe the four of us and get us out the door. Ben, age 2, is resisting toilet training more than Coraline ever did but is recently reclaiming control by insisting he put on his own diaper. It’s an enjoyable process to observe on a Sunday afternoon when I have all the time in the world, but on a Tuesday morning at 7:30am, it’s exasperating. I was about to leave the house as I was due at the local radio station to promote the non-profit I work for. Suddenly, I felt sick to my stomach. I knew I couldn’t leave the house at that time. I quickly emailed the radio station and explained that there had been an emergency and asked if I could come the next day; this was fine with them and a new date was set. Still feeling quite ill as though struck by a flu, I put my pajamas back on and climbed into bed. That afternoon, Owen and I were taking Coraline for the final classroom visit before her official first day. I worried that I wouldn’t be well enough to go.
I worried about what her teacher would think of a mother who didn’t attend her daughter’s schoolroom visit.
And then it struck me: it wasn’t the flu that got me, it was that old foe – self-doubt. As Coraline was starting a new adventure at a new school, I was starting a new one too. And the part of me that still wants to get everything perfect the first time around was in a panic. With this realization came tears. The work I’ve done over the past two years, the attempts at encouraging my true self to emerge, to open, to soften, to be gentle with myself and with others – all of this was gone and I was my younger self again. I was myself standing in a classroom of peers worrying about what I was wearing, who my friends would be, and if my grades would be satisfying to my parents. Except this time it was worry about whether or not Coraline’s teachers would like me, would they see how bright and amazing she is, would all the other parents know each other but be strangers to me, would I pack good enough lunches, would I help Coraline through this process but not smother her.
I’ve learned enough over the past couple of years to know I needed soothing.
And I’ve also learned that I’m the best person to do that. I sat in my meditation chair, bare feet planted on the ground, hands open and ready to accept from the universe. And I breathed. I told myself what I would’ve told Coraline if she’d been experiencing an ounce of self-doubt on that day (which she was not). I said it’s normal to feel nervous when you’re starting something new. And I breathed. I said it was okay for me to want to protect my daughter from every mean thing that hadn’t even been said yet; I’m her mom and it’s normal for me to want to protect her. And I breathed. I thought about the happiness and excitement she was feeling and I allowed that to move through me. And I breathed. I told myself that although I felt like I was loosing my grip on Coraline in some way, that my influence is starting to become smaller as her world becomes bigger, in reality there was still a tremendous amount I could do. I can’t control name calling in the play ground or catty girls at the lunch tables, but I can open my heart and show her love in everything I do. I can bake with her, read with her, play dolls with her, I can let her know every day and in endless ways that she is loved.
And I breathed.