"Would you like to take some tissues in with you?" My daughter's preschool teacher whispered, gently patting my shoulder and looking at me with eyes rimmed in sympathy. "It's your last one!" she said, with the same inflection you'd expect to hear at a funeral.
Silently nodding, I snatched the whole box out of her hands and entered the multi-purpose room. Dragging my feet all the way to my to my chair I plopped down and discreetly popped a Xanax — this was going to be rough. My youngest child was about to graduate from preschool and next year all three of my babies will leave me utterly, painfully, alone.
My eyes wandered around the gymnasium, remembering five years earlier when I had first toured the building looking for a preschool for my eldest, now in second grade. It seemed like both a hundred lifetimes ago and yesterday all at once.
At the time my mind couldn't wrap itself around my youngest as anything but a tiny baby in my arms. Back then, each day stretched out for a hundred eternities and every day I woke up certain that I was trapped in some sort of time warp.
Then one day I woke up and her hands weren't dimpled and her cheeks were no longer round and chubby. She had opinions and told bad jokes and rode her bike to her friend's house. Without me noticing, someone had hit the fast forward button and here I was, hearing her name announced and watching her walk across the little stage.
In a few days we would be saying goodbye to where all three of my kids learned how to hold a pencil and write their names. Where they learned to count and what it means to be a friend. And now we were saying goodbye to those friends — both theirs and mine. Friends who, after seeing them almost every single day for the past five years, have become more like family.
As she was called to the stage she smiled and waved at my husband and me. In one hand I clutched my camera and in the other I pressed a tissue to my mouth, preparing to stifle the unavoidable sob that comes with your child moving on to life's next adventure.
Here it comes. It's coming. Any minute now.
Silence. I was drier than the Sahara desert up in here, despite being surrounded by lots of tear dabbing and sounds of sniffles and sobs. Where were my tears? Why didn't I feel forlorn? What's up with no quivering lip as I wished my big girl was a baby again?
I just needed to try a little harder, that's all. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine her playing with her little preschool friends in their classroom, having circle time followed by snack. But instead, an image of me leisurely wandering the aisles of the grocery store in peace popped into my head. I saw myself take a long, loving look at an apple before I put it in the plastic bag. Note that noticeably absent from this image was a bunch of little hands grabbing an apple from the bottom of the pile, sending the whole shebang rolling to the floor in an apple-lanche.
Despite my best efforts to appreciate the awesome memories of the past few years, my mind kept drifting to next year. All three of my kids on the same school schedule. One drop off — one pick up. Consolidated parent/teacher conferences. And since we go to public school, no more school payments until uni.
And last but not least . . . oh hold me closer tiny dancer . . . FULL DAY KINDERGARTEN. Let me tell you a little story about how much my youngest child loves her some Chutes and Ladders. We literally play for a minimum of two hours every afternoon and breaking free from the shackles of that damn six-story purple slide on square 87 is enough to make me want to pop the champagne.
I knew exactly where my sadness was — far far away in the land of free time. "Soon, I will have seven hours a day ALL TO MYSELF," I thought giddily. "I can organise the shoe bin and get back in shape and finish the book I started seven years ago and balance my checkbook and plant a garden!"
I was suddenly aware of a few dozen tear-filled eyes on me as I cackled like a crazy woman and stood on my chair swinging my bra over my head like a lasso.
"Uhhh . . . I mean . . . *sniff*?"
Yes — I know they're only young once. Yes — I know it's precious time and YES — I know someday I'll miss this and wish I had this time back. But right now I feel like I've just finished a marathon and I'm going to dance my way across the finish line, right into that junk drawer that I can't wait to organise.
"Mum — did you see me?" My youngest asked as we walked to the car.
"Yes honey! You did great!"
"Hey I was thinking — can I have a party to celebrate me starting Kindergarten?"
I looked around the parking lot at all the red rimmed eyes making their way home. "You know, that's not a bad idea," I said. "Maybe everyone should."