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Mar 13 2014

That Time My Daughter Didn’t Let Me Walk Her into Preschool

By at 10:32 am

sarah-tuttle-family

“I want you to have roots and wings,” my mother used to say to me from as early as I can remember until the day she died. And I think of this during preschool drop-off on cool mornings when the sun slants softly through my 5.5-year-old daughter’s curls.

“Honey, do you want to go in without me? We can do our hug and kiss goodbye out here if you want.”

And some of the other kids go in alone without their parents: This is the beauty of the community we live in–the Middle East’s answer to Mayberry, USA, where every child is everyone’s child, and we all live and love and learn together even when it ain’t easy.

But my daughter says no. She wants me to walk her in and hang up her pink puffy jacket with the silver stars on it. She wants me to say hello to her teachers and look at the purple flower and rainbow butterfly she painted on the big mural in the hallway. She wants me to watch her push the last of the periwinkle pieces of the puzzle into the deep blue sky.

So I figured we had lots of time left between hanging her pink jacket on the hook and looking at pictures and finishing puzzles, and that moment when she’ll roll her eyes and toss her hair and say “Mommmmm” (because “mama” is for babies) “leave me alonnnnnneeeee. You’re embarrassing me.”

But I was wrong.

It was all my fault, obviously. I brought the wrong snack–a chocolate cherry granola bar instead of tropical skittles.

She sighed.

It was all my fault, obviously. I told her that we didn’t have time to go to the park on the way home–we had a long walk back and still had to pick up her little brother, and the evening shadows were already stretching across the road.

She gritted her teeth.

It was all my fault, obviously. I made her wear her pink jacket–she would rather I carry it even though the wind whipped around us.

She leveled me with her death stare.

And I’ll tell you the truth–when you’re parenting a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old, when their whims are far too often beyond your control, when you’re wading through these long afternoons, through gathering shadows, through dinnertime and bath time and bedtime, you grasp at straws like these.

And then it happened: I reached for her hand. Her little hand, smooth and seashell pink, her hand with the dimpled knuckles, her hand so unlike mine with my subterranean veins that reach for the surface and run over the knobs and tendons of a hand caught in that middle space between insolent youth and humbled age.

And while my hand hung there in the air, she folded her little hands over the stuffed giraffe she was carrying in front of her chest.

“Mama, I need a break from you. Give me some space.”

Damn girl, last time I checked, I was still helping you wipe your ass and tying your shoelaces… WTF.

I guess I had it coming–23 years of being my mother’s daughter meant that one day the old curse “I wish on you a kid like you” would come raining down on me hard, and Karma is a 5.5-year-old with an attitude.

And off she went, tossing her hair behind her shoulder several paces in front of me while she walked along the main road to her brother’s preschool building.

I almost yelled out “Oh, hell no, you are not running off. You WILL walk with me, child, because I am your MOTHER, goddammit, and I am not ready for this new attitude you’re throwing at me.”

But I didn’t.

For one thing, she was already out of earshot, and believe you me, it sucks to be that mother with the wind blowing your words back in your face.

So, I stayed back.

And I watched my daughter.

I knew she was safe because unlike our relationship, there are no twists on the main road between the preschool buildings, and I could see her with her hair streaming out behind her like a fairy flying through the wind, just in front of me. I knew she was safe because there are no cars allowed on the main road when it’s time to pick up the children, and the only traffic you’ll find are kids on bicycles and parents starting that second shift, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, carrying babies. And I knew she was safe because we know everyone we see in our little world.

So, I stayed back.

And I watched my daughter.

“Hello!” she called to one of the teachers. “How are you?”

The child who I too often nudge to say hello when she gets in the car, was smiling and waving to everyone she met along the road.

I stayed back.

And I watched my daughter.

“Why is David crying?” I heard her ask when she passed one of the preschool buildings where the babies stay. “David is my best friend’s brother, and I don’t want him to cry. Maybe this will help.”

The child who snorts like the little Taurus bull she is when I nag her to share her Barbie with her brother was giving her special stuffed giraffe to her friend’s little brother because she saw he was having a hard time.

I stayed back.

And I watched my daughter.

“Please don’t open the gate,” she told the teacher when she reached her brother’s preschool. “My brother likes to do it.”

The child who I so often remind that she can’t always go first, that it’s her brother’s turn to unlock the door, or turn on the light, or choose a book at bedtime, was making sure her brother got to open the gate because she knows that’s important to him. And she even said please.

wings

Yes, the next morning, my daughter wanted me to take her into school like always.

Yes, she wanted me to hang up her puffy pink jacket, to say hello to her teachers, and look at her drawing of a flower and a butterfly, such deep roots, such shining wings.

And yes, when I held out my hand to my daughter, she reached for it and I remembered: Once my hands were just like hers, and my mother’s were just like mine.

But after that afternoon when I saw my daughter for who she is when she thinks I’m not watching, I’m going to spend more time staying back and watching her fly.

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