Thirty-four years ago this week, my son began kindergarten. The sweet old ex-nun teacher smiled and introduced herself to Randy, who was hiding behind my legs. Then she said, “I would never tear a child away from his mother.” Immediately he clung to me like I was his life raft. He cried and threw himself on the ground. I had to go home to turn off the coffee pot, but I returned and spent most of the morning with him sitting on my lap. I worried that he was too attached and young for his age.
Three years later I brought my daughter to the same teacher and kindergarten room. I bent down to kiss her goodbye and she skipped off into the room while giving me a little backwards wave. That time I was the one who got in my car, turned the corner from Cardiff-by-the-Sea Elementary School, and burst into tears.
This morning both Rebecca and Aiden, my two oldest grandchildren, began kindergarten. I got up very early and was out the door by seven to make the rounds with my camera. I got to my daughter’s house and rang the bell. Rebecca came out to greet me. For the past few weeks, Rebecca has been determined to learn how to use the monkey bars at her school. The result has been some rather big blisters that popped on her hands, but then again, she has mastered the new skill. It’s the kind of girl she is.
She’s five-and-a-half and more than ready to go. Let me tell you about her unique and heartbreakingly adorable outfit she chose: long brown corduroy skirt, white T-shirt with a horse on it, plaid bandanna tied behind her hair, and her very own Little House on the Prairie apron and bonnet tied around her neck. Oh, and silver shoes.
All I could think of was, “God, don’t let anyone make fun of her. Please.” She was so delighted with herself. Her vulnerability hit me hard. Up until now she’s lived in perfect acceptance and praise. It struck me how defenseless and little she was. I took pictures of her alone and with her mom and baby sister. I kissed Rebecca on the cheek, told her to be herself and I loved her very much. Then I was off to try to catch Aiden before he left for school.
Aiden, at four-and-a-half, wasn’t dressed when I got there so I waited until he got his pants and shoes on. The other day I took him to the library and the first thing he told me was how he had boogers in his nose that were hard and they were bugging him. He couldn’t breathe right. I listened and commiserated. This morning his mom was squirting a saline solution into his nostrils to alleviate his sore nose.
Aiden, with his shiny reddish blond hair and big blue eyes, was dressed in a red shirt and brown pants and tennis shoes. I stood him in front of the bedroom door and told him to say, “I love kindergarten” while I snapped away. He smiled bigger than normal and did just as I said. I kissed him, said “I love you” and told him to have a wonderful day. Later, when downloading the pictures, I realized how he barely stood taller than the doorknob.
As I drove to work I realized that I’m stuck in the same space as years ago only now my focus of concern is for my grandchildren. Added to my thoughts for my children, now I have four grandchildren about whom I worry, offer whispered prayers of protection, and hope that everything will be fine.
They have only been on this planet five years. They are so small, so completely lacking in guile and experience. And yet, they both are well loved, with extended family, going to the best schools around, and so cute, so smart and sociable. I wish I had known while my parents were still alive how many people you carry around in your heart as you get older and I wish they were here to see this day. I know my mother would have said, “Stop worrying. They’ll be fine.” Then she would have made us a cup of tea.