“Long ago Laura had walked with Mary on the prairies of Dakota; the sun had gone down and blue shadows filled the land between the waves of prairie grass, and they had decided that everything changes. Nothing stays the same. That was a part of growing up.” – Excerpt from Laura by Donald Zochert
We were poking around at a rummage sale in a historic Episcopal church building this spring. I was pondering both the collection of dusty books for sale and the church’s picturesque exposed wood beams, when my husband, Josh, handed me a book. It had a 1976 copyright and the cover illustration was dated, but I decided to spend 50 cents on it. It was a biography of one of my favorite children’s authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I counted the book toward my participation in our county library’s summer reading program, and it was enlightening to read about the details of Laura’s life not covered in her Little House book series. In her adult years when she lived in the Missouri Ozarks, she wrote for several newspapers, including papers in St. Louis, where I now live. She was an intelligent, tenacious, thoughtful woman.
As I read, I watched the short weeks of summer slip by. This summer, I wanted time to pass slowly, because this week my oldest daughter, Megan, will start kindergarten.
Laura’s views about change both pierce my heart and comfort it. Everything changes; nothing stays the same.
Change is hard, but people have been coping for thousands of years. If Laura could manage change – traveling all over the country in a covered wagon, living in cabins and shanties and a dugout, saying goodbye to her sister Mary who went to the School for the Blind, and eventually watching her parents and siblings and spouse all pass away before her – then surely I can send my daughter to kindergarten. I hope.
I’ve been taking care of my own homestead of sorts for the past five and a half years, since Megan’s birth. We now have another daughter, 1-year-old Abigail. Long before I met my husband, I knew I wanted to stay home with my children while they were young. I’ve never had dreams of climbing corporate ladders. Just dreams of caring for my children and creating a cozy home for my family.
My suburban home is far removed from the log cabins and claim shanties of Laura’s childhood, but our families are not that different. We spend our days playing, baking, gardening, reading books, visiting friends, and taking care of the house. I have crafted our own small, tranquil world. Now, something is forcing me to loosen my grip on this life I have dreamed of and enjoyed so much. I recently wrote about enjoying the process of watching my children grow up. No one can stop time, so we may as well not grieve when our children outgrow the toddler and preschool years.
This kindergarten thing, though, is different. It’s a change that affects the entire structure of our weekdays. Our routine will be forever altered. I’ll be handing Megan over to the care of others for a significant portion of the day. I will never regret the decision to stay home with my daughters, but for moms like me who are accustomed to having great control over their children’s environment, this is a hard step. Another mom put it this way in a letter she wrote to her son as he entered kindergarten: “The hardest part of releasing you to elementary school — or any new experience — is realizing that I must give you up to the less-than-perfect world that awaits you.”
This week, I will wake early and feed my daughters breakfast. I’ll put Abigail in the stroller, and the three of us will walk the block and a half to the local elementary school, where I will say goodbye to Megan and watch her walk through the school doors. Abigail and I will walk back home, and we’ll spend the day alone. I’m pretty sure full-day kindergarten was invented by people who find their sole happiness in life by making mothers feel sad. Some of my neighbors – women in their 70s who raised large families in their day – clucked their tongues when they learned Megan is going to full-day kindergarten and that there really are no half-day programs anymore. They called it “glorified babysitting.” I agree, but that’s a discussion for another day.
When July rolled around this year, the impending school year began hanging over me like a distant cloud on the summer horizon. When pictures from last fall blinked by on my laptop’s screen saver, I reminisced about that time when I still had one more glorious year at home with my oldest. She was attending preschool two mornings a week, I occasionally volunteered at her preschool with Abigail in tow, and life was good. We three girls were in it together, participating in pumpkin patch field trips and class parties, coming home to eat grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and snuggling up with books and movies in the afternoons. I can’t bear to purge any of Megan’s preschool papers or art projects that are hanging around from last spring. They represent the final weeks and months of a time that was golden for me.
While discussing school with my husband the other night, I got teary. My husband gave me a hug, and when our daughter wandered over, he casually mentioned that “Mommy is a little sad.” Our daughter asked why. When my husband explained how I will miss her while she’s gone all day, she made the simple yet wise statement, “But I’ll come home.”
These kindergarten blues are common. When I shared my feelings with the ladies in the small singing group I participate in at church, women who are now grandmothers commiserated, solemnly recalling how difficult it was to send their own little ones off. My good neighbor friend whose oldest child will start kindergarten with Megan confessed she’s having a harder time than she anticipated, and she worries her daughter, who is eager to attend school, will pick up on her feelings and lose enthusiasm. I checked in with another friend via a Facebook e-mail the other day and made a passing reference to our daughters starting kindergarten. My friend wrote back with a frank, desperate confession that she wasn’t ready.
I take small comfort in the fact that I have my youngest at home for a few more years. Yet I feel like I am already starting the process of letting go of both of my daughters. My years spent caring for my young children at home are more than half gone. When Abigail also goes off to school, I will have to find other things to do with my days, and I will have to move on from the lifestyle I’ve loved these last few years.
I have a plan for the day when both of my children will be in school. In addition to my work for Mumbling Mommy, I’ll pick up more freelance editing and writing jobs. My husband and I were talking the other day about setting up a small desk in a corner of the house, to provide me with official work space. The flexible schedule that comes with freelancing is ideal. It will allow me to be involved in my daughters’ lives, volunteering at school, picking them up when they’re sick, and shuttling them to extracurricular activities. But the house will be awfully quiet when that time comes.
These days, I firmly tell myself that I will manage. I just will. Megan’s school is one of the best in our district and we have only heard high praise for the staff and culture there. I’ve already filled out the stack of volunteer paperwork and will get involved at the school as much as I can. (Now, who wants to babysit my toddler for me while I volunteer?) I’ll attend evening PTA meetings. I’ll savor my time at home with Abigail. I’ll continue to write and keep freelancing on the side burner. We will adjust and thrive as we face this, the first of several major milestones that will eventually lead to my daughters’ independence and adulthood.
I often repeat Laura’s mantra to myself: Everything changes; nothing ever stays the same. It’s good for my children to grow and become more independent. I’m not raising them to be babies forever. These milestones are exciting for children, so I don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm or make them feel that growing up is somehow wrong or hurtful.
Some things are constant, though. Laura also wrote, “At long last, I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all … It is the simple things of life that make living worth while, the sweet fundamental things such as love and duty, work and rest and living close to nature.”
Whether I’m at home with my small daughters or walking them to school every morning, those simple things like family, faith, and love remain. As my daughters and I find our ways in the coming weeks and years, those are the things I will cling to.
How did things go when you sent your first to kindergarten?
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