This week we sent our littles out into the open sea, two of them for the first time, into the rolling waters of public school. I joined our daughter Annie when she took little Beth to Kindergarten, under the ruse of keeping an eye on baby Tess. For sure, I kept a virtual leash on Tessa, who was infatuated with all things Kindergarten. But my eyes were on Beth, and on her mama. I recall vividly that day I took Annie to her first day of kindergarten. That’s a story for another day.
The last week or so Bethy Boo has been on edge, strangely emotional about the most unlikely things. She hid in the closet at her first ballet class, too nervous to dance. She refused to eat her favorite foods. Experience told me it was rising bubbles of nerves at the prospect of going into that big brick building away from her mama and little sister, every day. The great unknown was frightening to her. We tried to be all chipper and excited that first day, but she wasn’t buying it. Nonetheless, she’s her mama’s daughter, and she doesn’t like the feeling of sad, so on the actual first day she chose happy, even with the anxiety that came with it.
As I watched her walk across the playground into the kindergarten door, I was struck at how massive that brand new backpack looked on her little shoulders. It was actually quite comical to watch the whole stream of kiddos with their giant backpacks and new first-day outfits. After she traced her hand and cut it out, filled out a questionnaire about her favorite things (Q: food- A: clam chowder), met her teachers and listened to a storybook, Beth was a happy camper. It was Annie who was in tears.
It’s a heart thing.
Mama’s hearts have all sorts of scars. Sometimes they rip in the same places, over and over. But they are resilient and they heal and they keep on pumping, even when they hurt.
The first week of school is a heart-wrecker. It feels to me like life in a micro-span. Excitement, worry, tension, work, play, anxiety, exhaustion, triggered memories and concerned anticipation… it’s all there.
I watch Beth and Walter head off to that big old brick building with those giant backpacks and I whisper a literal prayer as they walk. Bless them with courage, and a willingness to make mistakes in the process of learning, and if possible send them one true friend.
It seems to me fitting that this week we also celebrate my mom’s walk across the heavenly playground on her way to her higher education.
Seven years ago today she drew her last human breath and headed off, leaving her children as weepy as Annie on Beth’s first day of school. That whole first year we shed the kind of tears that trickle unbeckoned from the corners of the eye, even in the most joyful moments. Especially in the most joyful moments. They still come, but we are familiar with them now. They are the fluid sap that works its way through the bark of the tree of love.
I picture our mom with a giant brand new backpack slung over her shoulder. She dances across the playground, her slender fingers flipping to the beat as she twirls. She sees us as she spins, and calls to us to follow, but she never breaks her stride. She knows where she is going. Her mom is there, and all her sisters and brothers, and her papa and her Jesus.
She is alive and well, I have no doubt. I have a lot of doubt about all sorts of stuff, but not this. She is alive and well.
It’s just that she feels so far away.