She felt afraid. Worried she wouldn’t know enough. Missing how she used to be a baby, she said. Not ready.
She felt excited. To meet friends and wear a purple backpack and practice numbers and read books with Ms. Foster. So ready.
The day before kindergarten started, we followed whims because my girl and I are sort of experts at that. We had just the kind of day we wanted.
We built a zoo for the Lego animals, dealt with that complaining and jealous
mama giraffe by making a community where they would all need to share. In the big house, they’d prepare meals together, take turns sitting at the table, watch the kids play on that lovely playground, cluck their thanks.
When we were done building, everyone was so happy they danced, and the polar bear even climbed to the top of the palm tree to celebrate.
At the store, we picked out giant chocolate chip cookies and ate them in the car. We drove fast and slow over speed bumps just for fun.
At home, we painted toenails and fingernails and added a thick grownup top coat so they’d stay extra sturdy as she crossed monkey bars and used a pencil all day.
In the afternoon, we read one of her favorite baby time books. I felt the line stretching between now and then, remembered how we rocked in the glider, the sound machine and our shared sing-song preparing the way for sleep I hoped would come.
Last Thursday, I read Only You as a promise she could take with her. I love everything about you. Your nose. Your eyes. Your hands. Your heart. No matter where you go, you and me, we’re made for each other. I always hold you with me, you know?
Before we picked up sisters from school, we stopped by the neighborhood secondhand store because Lala needed a little something to hold herself, to remember who she is, whose she is and how crazy much she’s loved.
My mama heart needed to be sure she knew.
We tried on butterfly necklaces and fingered the lines of a big silver cross. We looked at images in the 80’s ViewMaster and perused little freebee figurines in a basket. She chose the innocent-eyed boxing hippo because why wouldn’t a sweet girl with an unexpected toughie side?
Then we saw it, the beaded envelope, hanging from the end of a shimmering purple strand. On the back of the envelope a happy little row of gold daisies. On the front — one big heart and five small flowers.
Later that night, she and Papa chose just the right thing to fit inside — a tiny picture of the five of us. There we all were in that teensy pouch, the ones planted to grow side by side. The ones who’d pick her over and over again.
When Lala stacks blocks or draws a picture or runs across the playground or eats lunch, when her heart misses home and being really little. When she’s ready and not ready, she can wear it against her chest or stick her hand in her backpack where she’ll hold it for safe keeping, remember the strands of sparkle that are woven right through.
At the end of that first day, I squeezed my little kindergartener in the giraffe-print dress and “ballet bun,” hugged her so tight.
“I ate my whole lunch!” she declared.
“I got the container open by myself.”
“I pushed four kids on the tire swing!”
“I made two friends!”
“Did you look inside the pouch of your necklace today?” I asked.
“Yeah, about ten times,” she said in a matter of fact way — one that reminded me of a love you carry with you, the kind you just know.