Rainey’s First Day of Kindergarten

Rainey started kindergarten today. In the back of my mind I’ve always known she’d have to join the ranks of the real world. But lately that reality has wrapped itself around my head like a thick blanket, threatening to suffocate and kill me. And no, I’m not being dramatic.

For weeks prior to this morning, I obsessed over some rather simple decisions, like whether to pack her lunch every day or give her lunch money. I worried a lot about head lice. I shopped for sensible shoes. I kicked myself around for each time in the past five years I chose to fold laundry instead of put a puzzle together with her.

But mostly I just told her how much I love her. Finally one day last week Rainey asked, “Mama, are you saying ‘I love you’ a lot because I’m going to kindergarten?”

She’s a perceptive child, that Rainey. And I suppose this is as good an indication as any that she is ready for school, even if I’m not for her to go.

And so, in an effort to preserve this memory forever, or at least until a couple weeks from now when I regain my sanity, this is how we started her first day:

6:30 a.m.
I wake her up at the foot of our bed. Normally she sleeps in her own room. Is she as nervous as I am about her first day? I wonder.

“No,” she assures me. “I just wanted to snuggle.”

I take a deep breath.

6:32 a.m.
She gets dressed, makes her bed, takes a trip to the potty, feeds the cat, brushes her teeth and combs her hair in record time.

6:33 a.m.
Her pants are down around her ankles. I fix them, and thank Jesus for Old Navy’s adjustable waistline.

6:45 a.m.
I’m showered, Scott’s walking the dogs, and Rainey is sitting at the kitchen island waiting for the breakfast she requested last night: French toast. I fire up the griddle and begin whipping eggs.

7:00 a.m.
Lilla wakes up on the wrong side of the crib. She knows something big is going down today, and she doesn’t pretend to like it. I, on the other hand, stuff the prospect of Lilla’s big sister being gone ALL DAY, EVERY DAY for the next 180 DAYS way deep down in the crevices of my emotional cavern.

7:05 a.m.
We eat breakfast as a family, and in between Lilla’s screams, Scott asks Rainey what she’s looking forward to the most at school.

7:06 a.m.
Recess.

7:07 a.m.
Recess.

7:08 a.m.
Recess.

7:09 a.m.
Scott, she’s not going to change her answer. The kid’s excited about recess already.

7:10 a.m.
I can’t eat. I double-check the calendar to make sure today really is the first day of school. It says today really is the first day of school. Stupid calendar.

7:12 a.m.
Rainey asks for seconds. I give her mine.

7:20 a.m.
Rainey draws a picture, Scott reads the paper, Lilla flings French toast on the floor in protest. I check all cameras for proper film and charged batteries.

7:25 a.m.
Scott videotapes Rainey putting on her backpack. I make sure she has her water bottle and lunch from the fridge. Scott pans to me with the camera. I consider flipping him off. I scowl instead.

7:32 a.m.
We head out the front door and take at least a dozen pictures on the front steps.

7:33 a.m.
One more picture in the driveway.

7:34 a.m.
And another at the end of the driveway.

7:35 a.m.
Lilla rides solo in the double stroller; Rainey decides she’s totally capable of walking to school with an oversized backpack strapped to her back and lunch bag wrapped around her neck.

7:37 a.m.
I’m now carrying her backpack and lunch bag.

7:47 a.m.
After using up three more rolls of film in two blocks, we arrive at her school.

7:48 a.m.
Why can’t I breathe?

7:49 a.m.
Breathe, darnit, breathe!

7:50 a.m.
We walk Rainey into the cafeteria and find the kindergarten table. I fake excitement and say hello to some of her classmates. Rainey really is excited.

7:52 a.m.
Not wanting to drag this out, I hug Rainey good-bye. I feel tears forming behind my eyes. I try to stop them. I hold Rainey tighter. The tears won’t stop. I pretty much fall apart. I think I’m scaring my poor child.

Parents and teachers look on and smile. The subtext of their stares is “Rookie.”

7:53 a.m.
Scott steps in and gives Rainey a hug. He overcompensates for my emotional breakdown. He gives lots of high fives and practically has the whole cafeteria doing the wave. I go outside to breathe.

7:55 a.m.
Scott joins me and asks if I’m okay.

“I’m fine,” I lie.

7:56 a.m.
Scott peeks back inside.

7:57 a.m.
He does it again.

7:58 a.m.
And again. Rainey’s chatting away with her new best friends.

8:00 a.m.
We walk home. Scott keeps asking me if I’m okay. He tries to say something profound about the stroller being empty on one side. I want to kick him in the shins.

8:02 a.m.
Oh, hi, Lilla. We almost forgot we had another daughter.

8:10 a.m.
Scott leaves for work. Lilla and I play on the floor of our living room. I try really hard to focus on the block tower we’re building.

8:11 a.m.
I brace myself for the longest day of my life.

8:20 a.m.
Lilla poops in her diaper. For the first time ever, I thank God for it. I now have something to do.

9:00 a.m.
Finally, some girlfriends arrive. They, too, have just dropped off their children at kindergarten for the first time. They come with puffy eyes and chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate.

10:00 a.m.
I thank Jesus for girlfriends and chocolate. Laughing and eating and commiserating with them rescues my mental health.

10:30 a.m.
We pray for our kids and swap stories about when they were babies and how annoying our husbands were that morning and what to do in case an epidemic of head lice breaks out across the school district.

11:45 a.m.
The moms leave, and we vow that next year’s first day of school will be more celebratory. Think first grade, with margaritas.

12:00 p.m.
Lilla and I start missing Rainey again. We’ve already used denial, gossip and chocolate to cope. Now it’s time for sleep.

12:05 p.m.
Lilla goes down for a nap. I begin cleaning up the house after the morning’s company and hope to join her soon.

12:22 p.m.
Scott surprises me by coming home early.

12:30 p.m.
We celebrate by paying bills.

12:35 p.m.
Scott has other ideas on how to spend the afternoon.

12:36 p.m.
I tell him to back off; I swear I can hear Rainey calling me from the playground.

12:37 p.m.
Spurned, Scott joins me in balancing our budget. Somehow, we calculate, I spent most of our net income on lunch bags, backpacks, and sensible shoes.

2:30 p.m.
We wake up Lilla. It’s time to pick up Rainey. She practically leaps out of her crib.

2:40 p.m.
I try not to run the two blocks it takes to get there. I look like one of those speed walkers. I figure it can’t be worse than the scene I created that morning in the cafeteria. My chin’s leaning forward. My arms are pumping. My hips are swinging.

2:50 p.m.
We enter the cafeteria full of exhausted teachers, anxious parents, and sweaty grade-schoolers. We don’t see Rainey.

2:54 p.m.
Rainey enters the cafeteria looking completely smoked.

2:55 p.m.
We greet her with enormous hugs and walk home with our new kindergartener. She barely makes a peep.

3:05 p.m.
It takes a big bowl of popcorn to get her to talk. She loved it, she says, especially recess (surprise, surprise) and the gummy bears I snuck into her lunch box.

3:10 p.m.
We spend the rest of the afternoon lounging on the couch. She saves her most descriptive account of her day for my mom. Scott and I eavesdrop on the phone conversation. Turns out she really did have a good time.

5:00 p.m.
We head to Friendly’s for sundaes, a family tradition my mom started way back when I was in kindergarten.

5:30 p.m.
Rainey complains of a belly ache and hardly touches her Oreo cookie sundae. God love her, Scott and I say to each other, she’s probably just overloaded from her first day. Or it could be all the popcorn and gummy bears.

5:31 p.m.
Lilla eats Rainey’s sundae.

7:00 p.m.
After coming home, we bathe, dress, read to, and tuck the girls in bed. They’re both asleep within minutes.

Scott and I aren’t that far behind. We’re both exhausted, and part of me really hopes I’ll wake up tomorrow and realize today has just been a dream, that maybe I have one more week or month or year with Rainey at home.

But I know that won’t happen, so I figure instead of wigging out like I’ve done in recent weeks, I’ll go ahead and trust that some good will come out of sending her to school. I remember all the other changes we’ve gone through together – all the moves, milestones, and, of course, Lilla. On the other side of each change has been a blessing.

And so I’ll wait for the next one like I’ll wait for Rainey after school every day for the next 179 days: with open arms, excitement, and a big bowl of popcorn.

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