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The first day of kindergarten: I’m okay, you’re okay

Addi looking at her mom on the way to school. (Danielle Herzog)
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I put my sunglasses on and took a deep breath. With her hand held tightly in mine, we started walking down the street to her first day of school. I knew in a few minutes that she would be crying, she always cries when she was anxious about new experiences. But I also knew that once inside the room, she would thrive.

As we walked, she asked me if I would be waiting right outside the front door when school was over.
“How will I find you?” she asked.
“We’ll pick a spot for me to stand so you know exactly where to look, okay?” I answered.
“What if no one talks to me?”
“I know that the teacher will talk to you. She’ll help you find your seat and she’ll even introduce you all to each other. And you already know two friends in the class from preschool. I bet they are nervous too.”

She looked away and started to fidget with her backpack strap. It’s the same backpack that we spent 20 minutes packing up the night before. And the same one that she slipped her small stuffed animal puppy into when she thought I wasn’t looking this morning.

“What if I get shy and can’t talk to anyone?”
“You might feel shy at first,” I said to her, “but give yourself a little time and you’ll realize that you are having fun and feeling more comfortable.”

She looked up at me and smiled, as we waited at a stop sign. “I’m scared but really excited.”
“What are you the most excited for?”
I laugh because this is the same girl who weeks before told me she was exhausted from running one block down the street and needed to rest and drink water to refuel.

As we turn the corner, her face dropped. The massive group of students gathered everywhere overwhelmed her and her face instantly fell as the tears swelled up in her eyes.
“You can do this, sweetie. Everyone has a place in line, let’s go find yours.”

We lined up with her class and just as she was about to cling to my leg for dear life, her friend from preschool stood next to her. In an instant, she lit up. They soon realized they both have the same backpack and reached out for each other’s hand. And as the teacher began to walk them all into the school, she was smiling. Not crying, not grabbing onto me, but smiling.

But when I saw those little feet walk into that big building, it all hit me and I felt the emotion of the moment. I hid the tears behind my sunglasses and waved a bit too excitedly as she walked inside. But the beauty of that moment was that it was only a moment. I wiped my eyes, held my husband’s hand and we walked away feeling happy. Feeling proud.

All day I wondered what she was doing. Was she making friends? Did she find the bathroom okay? Was anyone mean to her? Could she put the straw in one of those ridiculously challenging juice boxes?

As I waited for her at pick up, I felt like a kid standing in line to meet Santa. She came out with her hand waving and her arms outstretched.
“I didn’t cry again, Mommy,” she said, excited to hug me and show me her backpack full of goodies.

After two hours of hearing the details of her day, we laughed and talked as a family about all about the adventures she had.
And as I kissed her goodnight and told her how proud I was of her, she turned to me and said, “I love school. But I was upset about one thing.”
“Oh? What’s that?” I asked.
“They don’t have any Barbies there.”
I smile and for a second felt jealous that there’s a place in the world that doesn’t have Barbies, considering that a village of them reside in my home.

But if the one thing she didn’t like was a lack of Barbies, well then, I think I can say that it was a good day.

And just like her, I didn’t cry again either.

Follow Danielle Herzog and her daughter each week for this one-month series where they’ll share their experiences of what starting school for the first time means for both a mother and her child. Herzog blogs at Martinis and Minivans. You can follow her on Twitter.

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