Big Girl, Bigger World

Big Girl, Bigger World

Big Girl, Bigger World

Time is a bastard.

All those sleepless nights when I cursed through gritted teeth, all those hectic mornings when I daydreamed about shoving my family into the front yard and locking the door so I could get a little work done, all those weekend afternoons when I wished I could just lay down on the couch and read a book — time pretended to be moving slowly, but it was really just crouching down into a runner’s stance and getting ready to break into a cool, unruffled sprint, leaving me in the dust to count my aches and gray hairs.

Which is to say that I am now the proud father of a kindergarten student. This hasn’t caught me completely by surprise — I’m not quite as dumb as I look — but I’ve found that parenthood isn’t about the milestones everybody talks about; what really trips you up are the divots on the horizon that lie in their shadow. I understood, on some level, the leap of faith it takes to put your child into a room with a bunch of other kids and some adults you hardly know. But not really. Not at all.

All of a sudden, my daughter had to wrap her head around the concept of the weekend as a short break between obligations. Going to kindergarten isn’t exactly working in a coalmine, but it’s still something she has to do, five days a week, whether or not she feels like it — and that’s the way it’s going to be for most of the rest of her life. That didn’t sink in for me until I had to explain her school schedule to her, and it kind of destroyed me. I love to mock the backwoods hipsters and holier-than-thou hillbillies who homeschool their kids around here — and there are a lot more of them than you might think — but I do understand the impulse. This marks the spot where we hand our offspring over to society — to let it start chipping away at their perfect little personalities, and start breaking their beautiful hearts.

And speaking of heartbreak, my daughter’s first classroom fixation is on a boy in first grade. I don’t know that I’d call it a crush, because God, gross, she’s only turning six next month — but she can’t stop talking about this kid, even though, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t given her more than a passing thought. My daughter has always been careful and methodical when it comes to her relationships, and she’s got the whole situation visualized: she describes herself as being on “a track to friendship” with him, with a series of steps that include chatting and telling knock-knock jokes. Ultimately, after enough of these steps, she’s hoping their friendship will “fall into action,” at which point they’ll sit together on the classroom rug and play together at recess.

My wife is a little weirded out by the whole thing — mostly, I think, because she’s tired of hearing this boy’s name all the time. I think it’s sweet. But on the other hand, I’m horrified. As soon as my daughter told me about her friendship track, this little voice in my head whispered: What if he doesn’t want to be friends with her? What are you going to do the first time someone really hurts her feelings?

How much time do you have before life wounds her enough that she feels like she has to change who she is?

Premature questions, I hope. And I know there’s nothing to be gained by yielding to the impulse to bubble-wrap our kids forever. That isn’t why they’re here. But God, the world can be brutal sometimes, and although I know my daughter is on a track to many friendships, I also know about everything else that’s out there — the confusion, shame, loneliness, and regret we all take on at different moments, and from whose weight we struggle to unburden ourselves in our efforts to live happy, fruitful lives.

There’s so much in store for her. I’m not ready to watch her find it yet, but I have to be. Time sprints on.

  • Hell, my son’s not even 18 months old yet and I’ve already shared some of these same thoughts. It’s as if my natural, lifelong tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and speculate to wild and unpleasant extremes has all been but practice for my time as a parent. I’m probably going to be on Valium by the time my son gets to kindergarten.

    (They still prescribe Valium don’t they?)

  • Jules

    Ack!  Hopefully there will be many joys and wonders discovered in school and the wider world in general, not just soul crushing pain and disappointments.  I remember when my daughter was 2 and we had her in pre-school.  She would cry every day when Ted dropped her off.  She liked the place just fine, but she really wanted him to stay there with her while she played.  Every day I’d come to pick her up, and she’d be SO relieved to see me.  Heartbreaking.  Then came the day when I arrived, and she wasn’t ready to go yet, too busy running around the playground with a football and laughing with her friends.  What a relief that day was.  She’s 15 now and a soph in HS.  I’m kinda dreading college, for a lot of the reasons you mention here.  Even at HS, I can keep an eye on her and help her if things get weird.  College is more…real.  Maybe I can home school her through that?

  • MCO

    Eloquent piece.  Somebody needs to put this theme to music.  “How much time do you have before life wounds her enough that she feels like she has to change who she is?”  Very touching.  Right now I want to go home and hug my daughter.

    Chris, love the comment.  Glad to know I’m not alone in the world.

  • Great article, Jeff.

  • Thanks for reading, everyone! You make me glad I hit “publish.”

  • Indigoblur

    What a beautiful sentiment. Love it Jeff! This sentence is exactly how I felt/feel when I sent/send my kids to school. “This marks the spot where we hand our offspring over to society — to let it start chipping away at their perfect little personalities, and start breaking their beautiful hearts.”

  • Well put.  We’re going through it all over again with thing 2.  It’s awful and wonderful and heartbreaking and pride-inducing all at once.

  • I remember when I did it having “Birth, School, Work, Death” by The Godfathers running through my mind.  Now that’s depressing.  There are many varied and colorful paths through life, thankfully.

  • Matt

    Beautiful piece. Thanks, Jefito.

  • A wonderful piece, capturing the feeling of every parent of a kindergartner – or new college student!

  • This piece perfectly captures the pride and sorrow of every parent watching their child going off to kindergarten – or college – for the first time. A beautiful photo, too!