This fall, I will consider myself one of many, many parents watching their first child embark on the journey of school. My four-year old daughter will only be starting preschool, but it’s still school nonetheless. Today I took her to a “peek at preschool” event. As we were walking from the car to the building, I grasped her tiny hand – this tiny hand that has somehow, seemingly overnight, evolved from a baby hand with stubby fingers and microscopic finger nails to the hand of a kid. A hand with the markings of a girl who is both tomboy and girly – dirt under the fingernails and green marker stains, complete with the remnants of hot pink fingernail polish.
It was a bright, beautiful sunny morning and as we walked our shadows cast out before us. I watched her follow her shadow, leading the way to this school experience
After snapping this picture, I immediately thought of a similar picture I took three summers ago when she was around 18 months. She had just discovered her shadow. She took much delight in that when she moved, so did her shadow.
In this younger picture of her, she wasn’t following her shadow. It wasn’t taking her to some significant (or even insignificant) place or life event. She was simply delighting in being there, and reveling in the discovery of this simple, new found reflection of herself that is always present on a sunny day.
After I took the picture this morning of her shadow marching her to preschool, she pondered out loud, “I wonder where we’ll hang our coats.” Here was my little girl, no longer marveling in the existence of her shadow, but instead following it and speculating about what sort of routine and order will characterize this next stage her life. I suppose that what is important about this moment, about her statement, about her growing shadow, is the new-found expectation of routine, protocol, and norms. Almost gone are the moments of toddler hood that are filled with chaos and disorder and that “live in the moment” mentality. I was brought to tears, which I tried my hardest to hide from her. And then the emerging smell of fall hit me. I was transported to all the new school years I experienced, and while admittedly that made me a little terrified for her, I actually grew really very excited for her. I was transported back to all that exciting “newness” – new teachers, new friends, new school supplies, new clothes, new books. This, juxtaposed with the familiarity of friends, family, and the fact that my mom and dad were always there to pick me up, reminded me of what is so wondrous about having kids. Life is not only renewed and lived again through the experiences of your children, but you get to give and support your children with all your might. And the reward is watching them grow up and getting to love them.
This is still a very bittersweet experience – watching your firstborn begin school – but I take comfort in her growing shadow and the fact that she will be okay as long as she knows that she can always hang her coat at home.
Mirra Anson moved to the Iowa City area from Missouri this past spring with her husband and two daughters – Olivia, four years old, and Lena, four months old. She works at the University of Iowa directing a college readiness program and loves to spend her spare time with her girls, exploring and visiting all the area libraries, parks, and other activities and special events.