I was around the age she is now. I know it was then my dreams of her all began. I remember aspects of then clearly. Like when my mom took a photo of me in front of the playground and then held my hand as we made our way up the few steps to the old post office turned preschool. The quaint vintage building’s high ceilings seemingly went on forever and the cloak room’s hooks appeared almost out of reach. My mom took the gym bag she had sewn for me and hung it up. She had cleared her morning for me. Her plan had been to stay with me and ease me into this first day. As she knelt down to my level, the forest green linoleum floor beneath us did nothing to hide the age of the floor boards. Though the air hinted at the building’s heritage, the newly set-up centres were my only focus. Seeing schoolmates act as settlers, claiming toys for themselves, I already felt I needed to make up for time lost in the minutes wasted in the cloak room. “You can go shopping,” I urged my mom. The freedom school offered was too enticing not to fully capitalize on. And just like that, I was off. In the next two years, within the four walls of the old post office, I drew wobbly stick people in her likeness. My teacher captioned these pictures, “Mommy Alana and her girl”. Almost all my play was orchestrated around me being the mom and having a daughter of my own. As the years went on and play dissipated into phone calls with friends, those closest to me were also especially keen on being moms one day too. We took the Babysitting Course together; we joined Peer Counselling in high school. By University, we took education and psychology, all with the idea that we would one day have kids of our own.
When my daughter was born I couldn’t believe how blessed I was to have a daughter, become a mom, and have a healthy child. With the declaration, “It’s a girl” came a flood of dreams of what her life may hold. In the three years since my baby’s birth, I have been enthralled with the little being who came into this world through me. Each day prior to today has been a gradual process. Getting up on all fours preceded sitting which preceded crawling. Babbling came before word approximations. I have been there, step-by-step. You can argue that the lead up to today was gradual too, first knowing our daughter was ready for increased social interaction and autonomy, then finding a preschool, signing up and orientation. This wasn’t totally abrupt. Nonetheless suddenly, out of nowhere, the first day of school came. And a wave of illness swept over me. For the first time in mine and my daughter’s lives, I was sending her out into the world. I felt plagued by thoughts of:
“Will she understand the importance of manners without me there?”
“Will she speak up rather than remain silent if her needs aren’t being met or she needs something?”
“Will she stand up for herself?”
“Will she show empathy and compassion for those who need it?”
My concerns may seem weighty for such a young child. But, my steadfast goal has been and remains to be that I instill in her politeness, warmth, curiosity, empathy, humility, and strength. These virtues are all fibres of her being. But parenting instinct can be so incredibly dichotomous on situations like the first day of school. While I want my daughter to be autonomous and for her to learn and discover without me there all the time, there is this pull of my heart. There is a pull that says, Hold her back. Keep her with you. Keep her safe. Be there for her. Protect her. Keep her in the fold. My ‘rational self’ knows she will do just fine. Not only will she do fine in preschool, but she’s ready for this. And I want this for her too.
As the time drew nearer, I remained as stoic packing her bubble gum pink backpack. In the car, Taylor Swift did a wonderful job of hiding my tears through the cornfields en route to school. My three-year-old leapt from the car and for the first time in her life, posed for pictures for me. Sparkles exuded from her eyes and her smile as if they knew she was about to have her much anticipated moment to shine. We walked through the oversized school doors hand-in-hand. The entire school shone with newness, her classroom a clean only a recently built edifice could accomplish. The sobs from her schoolmate missing her mommy met us in the cloak room. I no sooner changed my daughter into her indoor shoes than she was beside the girl, consoling her and asking to be her friend. It was a more subtle cue than I had given my mom twenty-eight years before, but it was my cue to leave nevertheless.
I left feeling anew. I had done alright. And she, well she had exceeded the best of my dreams.