And even though her siblings are off to sixth and third grades this year, there's something about the baby—my baby—heading off to first grade that's kind of killing me tonight.
I've said it before. I've got a love-hate relationship with Back to School, so I'm actually ready to kick them out of the house. But another part of me is grasping, holding onto them so tightly, wishing they didn't have to keep growing up. I'm wishing these milestones would slow down or stop. Because they are all milestones experienced without him.
This is just one of the many life events he's missing out on.
The night before first grade was certainly a frazzled one, trying on uniforms, packing backpacks with crayons, glue and Clorox wipes, and trying to make it to bed on time. This baby of mine was cranky, she was whiny and had no desire in the morning to meet a new teacher in a new class with new faces. Tonight was quite different than the previous night—our last "non school" night of the summer—when she spent the day at her brother's soccer practice, sweaty and chasing after what she thought was a Monarch butterfly (I didn't have the heart to tell her it was a moth) and once she finally caught it in her little hands, she didn't want to let it go. She begged for me to put it in an empty water bottle to keep in her room. After that thing was being suffocated for half an hour, I yelled from the bleachers for her to set that ever-lovin' (butterfly) free or else.
The night before first grade, she didn't want to wear her pajamas. She insisted on wearing a dirty shirt she's had on for two days despite my pleading for clean jammies. So she went to bed with her "My Daddy Rocks" T-shirt. She clung to a wrinkled picture of her daddy holding her, just as she has for months now at bedtime. She begged for stories and for me to stay longer in her room. I don't know how or why I chose a book from the shelf about Winnie the Pooh, but it was surprisingly appropriate because his friend, Christopher Robin, was going off to school. Christopher Robin told Pooh to feel stronger, braver and smarter than he thinks he is. He told Pooh that "even if we're apart, I'll always be with you."
I told her we can remember that tomorrow, that even if we don't see daddy here, we know he will always be with us. Somewhere he sees us. He knows tomorrow is a big day for a new first-grader (and a sixth-grader and two third-graders).
The night before first grade, just before I turned out the lights in the bedroom of my baby—our baby— I noticed her dirty T-shirt had a butterfly on it. In a message I now hear loud and clear, I realize I'm going to have to keep setting these ever-lovin' children free. One milestone at a time.
I know too, even though he's not here, he'll always be with me.