My youngest daughter started kindergarten this fall and it has not been easy. I’m not sure if it has been more difficult for her or for me but, regardless, September was filled with tears. Last spring I wrote a bit about why we weren’t ready for kindergarten. My youngest daughter radiates pure joy and happiness most days and I was concerned that the stress and pressure of school would have a negative impact on her carefree personality. By the second week of school I was afraid my predictions were correct.
It began subtly enough. When asked how her day of school was she gave me very little. She would shrug and say “fine” mirroring the response I would get from my seventh grader. She never spoke of her teacher, any other kids, or any activity she may have done at school. A few days later the tears in the morning started. I pulled her from bed every morning with her weeping that she didn’t want to go to school. The only explanation for the tears I could pull from her was that she wanted to stay home with me. Since I’m a working mother this is an impossibility and with the exception of the summer or sick days she has NEVER stayed home with me on a week day so this excuse made no sense to me. Once I reminded her that I needed to go to work myself she would pull herself together and I left for work with the image of her tear-stained face in my head for the rest of the day.
As a thinker and a worrier I, of course, analyzed this behavior to death. I talked about it with anyone who would listen and I came to a couple of conclusions. First, kindergarten was not as fun or as warm as preschool and she was adjusting to this new normal. I was concerned she wasn’t connecting with the teacher and other kids. She was becoming physically and emotionally drained. Second, I was somehow at fault for this difficulty. I baby her and spoil her. I spent all summer telling her I wasn’t ready for her to be a “big girl”. I ask her all of the time to please not grow up. I treat her like a baby so now she was acting like a baby. I laid that guilt on thick and spent most of my commute time every morning in tears.
My daughter has an Elmo doll who has been her constant companion since I absently tossed him into her crib when she was a baby. The former “lovey” of her older sister, he is permanently stained and faded and well-loved. Elmo spent every day at daycare, has been on countless trips and adventures, and would attend preschool with my daughter safely tucked into her backpack. She cannot go to bed without him prompting many frantic 8PM searches (and sometimes desperate phone calls to a daycare provider or her grandmother in an attempt to locate him). One evening in mid-September I found my daughter asleep in front of the TV in my bed (yes, yes, I know–spoiled rotten) with Elmo perched on her head. It appeared as if she placed him there for protection. I again shed a few tears for my sad little girl wishing she was handling this transition better.
The next day I stopped home after work before retrieving my children from their grandmother. As I walked through our family room I noticed this:
I showed this picture to my husband and he told me that every morning before leaving for school our daughter tucked Elmo into a chair and talked to him. She told him to have a good day or she said that she would miss him. Since I leave for work before the rest of my family I had not seen this and I realized, with a jolt, that my baby girl was not only transitioning into a new type of daily experience but she was doing so without her beloved friend. Her friend who comforted her when she missed me at daycare. Her friend who hid in her backpack during her days at preschool. Her friend who protects her from nightmares every night.
As September has rolled into October, my daughter no longer cries in the mornings. She talks about school much more often and she is mentioning new friends. Yesterday I found she had left Elmo rather haphazardly on a chair, probably dropping him quickly and without a second thought when her father summoned her to get moving for school. I’m going to call that progress.
As for me, her improved mood (and a quick chat with her teacher) have convinced me that she’s handling kindergarten as well as most five-year-olds and I know she will thrive in school. I’m still sad that my last baby is growing up and I still wish, every now and then, that I could freeze time. Until that’s possible I’ll praise her for all of her “big girl” accomplishments and treasure her “little girl” moments…like this one.