Today, my little girl made me cry. In truth, I’ve been crying a lot lately, but today was different.
Let me explain.
On my daughter’s very first day of kindergarten, we buried my dad. He died unexpectedly on a solo business trip while my husband, kids and I were enjoying our last family vacation of the summer. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the hardest days of my life.
After putting my daughter on that first bus ride, I went into the house, tried to eat something, and headed to the funeral home with my husband. After spending some time dry heaving in the parking lot, we went inside to meet my brother, sister, and their spouses along with my uncle, my dad’s only brother, to fulfill the mitzvah of sitting with my father just before tahara (ritual act of purification) took place. Not an easy morning. After a man my father’s age, whom I’ve known pretty much my whole life, handed me one of the tzitzit from my dad’s father’s tallis we chose to bury him with, I lost it. The tradition of rendering the tallis useless really hit me. Just like my father did, I take our traditions to heart.
A few hours later, I stood in front of an unbelievable crowd of people in the sanctuary of the synagogue in which I grew up. In that sanctuary—where I attended services with my dad, led services at my bat mitzvah, attended my brother and sister’s b’nai mitzvot, gave a speech to the congregation about my Israel trips, and then celebrated my own wedding—I stood poised and determined to honor my dad’s memory by sharing thoughts and remembrances without tears on behalf of my brother, my sister, my mother, and the most difficult part, my children, and nephew. I managed to remain calm and collected while I spoke in front of people I’ve known my entire life, those people with whom I grew up, my friends of more recent years, clergy from my current synagogue, the rabbi who performed my sister’s bat mitzvah, family friends, and people only my dad knew.
I know one day when I tell her about it, my daughter will be so proud I managed to remain composed while she sat in a brand new classroom, in a new school, with new teachers, new rules, and new friends across town. The juxtaposition of saying goodbye to one defining chapter of my life and to the person who gave me life, while my daughter embarked on an exciting chapter, is one that I will always remember.
That first week, my daughter knew those around her were sad. I know she was sad. She certainly knew conceptually that her Pop Pop died. Thankfully (or not so thankfully), she already knew about death. She understood the process of shiva, or at least the part involving cookies. After all, we lost my 60-year-old uncle a year ago June and this last July, our neighbor passed away in his 50s, both unexpectedly. I know she understood, but honestly, I don’t know how much of it she still really understands. But she struggled through it. I struggled through it, asking her to be strong and brave when inside, I felt like I was falling apart.
Starting that first day of school, and every day the following month, my daughter asked me to hold her hand and walk her up the stairs of that bright yellow school bus. She’d ask me for a kiss and a hug on the bus and then just one more before I’d squeeze her hand, tell her I loved her, and walk off the bus waving.
But today, my little girl made me cry. Today, she got on the bus to kindergarten all by herself. She got on unexpectedly. She got on without even telling me she was thinking about it. When the bus arrived she was holding my hand. I was about to start walking to the bus when she tugged my hand and determinedly said, “Mommy, kiss.” I gave her a kiss, thinking I’d kiss her again on the bus. But she let go of my hand, walked to the bus, and got on herself.
Thank you, to my sweet girl, for turning around to smile and wave.
My daughter continues to surprise and amaze me every day. It’s been a rough seven weeks for me, but she has shown me how a person should make up her mind—in my daughter’s case quietly—and put the best foot forward to keep moving. I thank her for my tears this morning, for teaching me by her example.
Because when the unexpected happens in life—the really hard unexpected—we have to keep moving forward, always remembering to stop, turn, and smile while we keep on going.