Throughout the summer I have sat across from mothers fretting and fearing the start of their children’s start to school this coming Monday. The internal turmoil of “Are they ready?” or possibly as importantly “Am I ready?” has been the subject of conversations among my dearest friends. We have talked each other through decisions to hold our little ones back another year in pre-school or send them to big school and the melee of the public, private, charter school world. Many texts, tears and nighttime Facebook chats were exchanged over the spring and summer and for those of us in Tallahassee our little ones have started their chosen path or will be starting, as Julia is, on Monday. All summer long I have emphatically said, “Yes, Julia is ready to go to ‘big girl school’ so let’s get started!” I’ve happily bought her school supplies and excitedly unwrapped new purple unicorn backpacks and lunch bags delivered to my doorstep by Pottery Barn Kids. I rushed to Julia’s elementary school last Wednesday to happily discover that her teacher is a woman I’ve known since my high school days and Julia’s little buddy who I had hoped would be in her class is indeed seated next to her! We have her smocked dress picked out and her rubber bands fastened to the pink plastic clothes hanger ready for our first day of school. But I find as the days and hours creep closer to her first day of Kindergarten I’m feeling anxiety creeping into the edges. Black and insidious the brittle shards of discontent and the refrain of, “This is not how it should be” ringing in my ears.
Historically Kindergarten was seen as a place where young children’s minds were tilled with rigorous education methods and the seeds of reading and arithmetic were planted to grow and blossom in the minds of young children. The “garden of children” which I think is a lovely image of the ways in which education, especially in little ones like Julia, can sprout and grow. The flowers of addition and subtraction further germinating the buds of algebra and geometry. The love of letters blossoming to words carried by the bees of Beverly Cleary and Jane Austen as the joy of literature, God willing, grows within her. As the progeny of two English majors Wesley and I always took for granted that she too would be an child with her nose in a book voraciously rerading everything she could place in her eager hands. Wesley would have relished these frenzied days and the days to come as the doors of learning unlock to the secret garden of knowledge for Julia. He would have eagerly pumped her for information at the dinner table, secretly scouting the book fair fliers and researching “kindergarten science fair projects” they could do together because he would have wanted every single piece of this experience to be fully embraced. Wesley would be have lived this fully. The gardener of this little plot of land.
This afternoon we were packing Julia’s lunch for tomorrow in her new purple unicorn lunchbox she asked the I put one of “Daddy’s notes” in her lunch for tomorrow. I bit the inside of my lip, fighting back tears and got the large Ziploc full of seemingly unimportant crumpled napkins from the pantry shelves. When Wesley and I first moved to Atlanta I had a job in Midtown and as I headed out to my “big important job” each morning Wesley would hand me my lovingly packed brown paper lunch with the admonition to “not look inside until lunch, ok?” Because the lunch was always a surprise of PB&J, turkey and cheese or on special days…leftover pizza. Each day I would open my lunch to the surprise food and the carefully decorated napkin illustrations. Sometimes a message of love, sometimes cartoons of our two cats and their daily shenanigans while we were at work and sometimes just a beautiful picture. These ink drawings on white Dixie napkins, which somehow we had the forethought to keep, are so precious to me and there have been many times Julia and I have pulled them out and looked them over. Her father’s handwriting and humor and the artistic skill that is quite good and the snapshot of who we were as young 20-somethings with our first apartment and the adult lives we were just starting. There is one that particularly tears me up…” 5 years from now…I will be married to you and loving it!” We were and he did love it. I love it. Those napkins were a small kindness that Wesley gave to me; he still gives to me and to us. Julia chose the “Meezer (our name for our cat) makes supper” with an ink drawing of a cat with a measuring cup and whisk in its hand for her lunch box tomorrow. I think it is absolutely perfect way to have Wesley there. I know he would have made her a little drawing of her own to ease her “scared and excited” mind.
I’m so excited for Julia’s new adventure; new challenges and friendships. I mourn that she will have an empty hand that should be filled by her father as she walks to her classroom but as always she saw it a different way. I was crying yesterday about the fact that Wesley would not see her go to Kindergarten. That here was one more milestone in her life her father could not accompany her through. She looked at me a feeling of astonishment at my ignorance and said, cocking her blonde pigtailed head, “Duh, of course he can see me mommy…why do you always forget that?” Not her most respectful reply but why do I forget indeed? Perhaps I need to tend my own garden that is choked with weeds of bitterness and woe as looking upon Julia’s, it is verdant and green; lush and lovely.