My 3-year-old daughter has been bursting out of her skin to get to school. This past September, when we were getting ready for the son’s upcoming school year, my son got a new backpack. So she wanted a new backpack. She watched him scooting the 20 minutes to and from school while she rode in the stroller behind and started talking about getting a scooter, too. Over the winter, she found one on the playground and practiced scooting on it, even taking her backpack with her to the playground so she could pretend going to school. She would even stop somewhere to “cross the street” while holding my hand. She started wearing her backpack everywhere she could.
We hadn’t put her in the 2’s program in the fall mostly due to logistics; it was half a day and we lived just far away enough that we would have spent our entire days running back and forth from the school. Instead, I had her most mornings. I felt awful when I watched her longingly staring into her brother’s classroom, trying to procrastinate leaving. Over the course of the year, she inched up her presence into his classroom more and more. She endeared herself to his teachers so they were giving her snacks at pick-up regularly. In the morning, she was occasionally asked if she wanted to help put the schedule up. When the family came into school for birthday parties and holidays, she sang and danced with the kids, even though she didn’t know the word or the movements and she sat right at the table with the rest of the kids. For the class’ final puppet performance, she went to sit with them rather than sit in the audience. She even talked about making goodbye cards for the teachers.
Her social life didn’t help. All the kids her age were either in programs or so filled up on classes that playdates were a nearly impossible exercise in Tetris. She had been in a music class for almost a year which she loved. She was bursting with confidence and joy to see friends and sing. However, after the summer, the average age in the class dropped significantly. She had few peers available on a regular basis and she wasn’t being challenged. My guilt increased significantly every time she asked for a playdate with a friend who was busy at school or another class.
In an effort to find similarly aged friends, I took her to a toddler swim at my son’s school which only had one other family that regularly showed up and the child was 9 months old when we met. We made the best of it and I taught her to swim but I was discouraged. We put her in a dance class for 3 to 4-year-olds (she was just shy of 3 at that point), which she took to immediately. She watched the teacher with adoring eyes, following her every move exactly. I sometimes sent her into the dance studio ahead of me and when I arrived, she was fully engaged. I wondered if I needed to be there at all. However, it was still hard to make friends since people often left quickly or lived too far away to travel in the cold. We were more successful in our second round of the class and she made one or two friends that stuck but even they had busy schedules on other days.
For her birthday, she finally got the scooter she had been waiting for and a lunchbox to use when she started school in the fall. She was over the moon. It’s taken her a while to get comfortable with the scooter but she suddenly picked it up last week and is already a whiz, even trying to do some of the tricks she sees her brother doing and going distances that he never did for months after he started scooting.
She’s starting camp in two weeks at the school she will attend in the fall. She cannot wait. Most of me can’t wait either. I can’t wait to see her finally able to embrace the experience she’s been dying to have, to have friends her age, to learn things in a more structured setting than I have been able to provide. While I’ve taught her painting, Legos, climbing, pretend play, music, dance and even little bits of reading, it’s the classroom she really wants. And while I want that for her, too, I also want to hold on to the cool things we’ve been doing together and the time we’ve had when she’s not with her brother, when she’s a wholly different person, not following him around. She puts puzzles together differently; she visits different parts of museums than he does; she plays different games; and most importantly, her newly found personality and voice isn’t ignored when it’s just us and it’s a marvelous thing to see it coming out. We listen to music at lunch which my son hates doing. And if I’m feeling sick and we need to stay home, she’s incredibly thoughtful and understanding, often asking how I’m feeling and if I want more tea. We’ve had a great time and it’s not that I don’t want her to go on to her fantastic adventures that she’s been so desperate to have (and to assuage the guilt I’ve carried all year long); it’s just that I’ll miss her.