Motherhood Milestone


I’m not one of those moms. I don’t carefully plan an outfit and sign for a First Day of School photoshoot at the front door, I don’t have a Pinterest board for Bento Box Lunches, and I don’t drive a minivan. In fact, I’ve never been one of those moms. I never boiled her dropped pacifiers, I didn’t rush her to the doctor for every fever, and I don’t know where her first tooth is. I gave my daughter cereal at 4 months (gasp!), haven’t volunteered in her classroom since she was in Kindergarten, and I get a little thrill at the freedom that comes with a school trip out of town or a visit to her grandparents. I’m all about paying for school lunches in favor of trying to prognosticate her meal preferences, and I think the closest I’ve come to a teacher gift in all this time is a Starbucks card or a handful of mini Almond Joys stuffed into her bag with instructions to share. I’m just not that mom. That’s why today took me totally by surprise.


I need to rewind to the first day of Kindergarten. I was so ready for my one-and-only kiddo to hit that milestone! My husband was in the middle of an extended deployment to Southwestern Asia (we were told 18-24 months was possible), and I had moved away from our military post to be closer to family. It was tough having him gone, but she was outfitted with a gaudy plastic locket containing his picture, and another large photo of him was tucked lovingly into her cubby. I recall her heading into her first day without too much hesitation, but a rogue wave of emotion hit me broadside as soon as I walked back into the house. It was quiet. So quiet. I crawled into my bed and sobbed until I fell asleep, and slept until it was time to go pick her up. It was not a great way to start the new chapter of our lives, but that was truly the beginning and the end of my angst. The next day, I dropped her off at school again, and practically frolicked across town to Target, or Starbucks, or wherever I went, and then I met my parents for the first matinee of the morning at the local movie theater. Bye-bye sentimental mommy moment, hello readily-embraced freedom! The rest of the year was spent in this more rational manner, and after welcoming Daddy back to the US in late winter, I went back to school myself to finish up my degree. 

I look forward to the beginning of school each year with the zeal of someone making a religious pilgrimage. I joyfully boot her out of the car at the beginning of each term, and gleefully make my way to work, free of sentiment or anxiety. And I expected to have the exact same experience tomorrow morning when she starts her first day of high school, which is what makes today so very weird. 


I know I’ve already covered this, but I’m not one of those prepared moms. I don’t spend the weekends making paleo-friendly, grab-and-go breakfasts. We try to plan out meals for the week and get our major shopping done on the weekends, but we’re really lucky if we keep to that plan even half the time. My husband is not in the military these days, but he works and goes to school full time, and I have a contract job and my own business, so we’re busy people. This morning we planned our meals for the week, made sure the kid’s backpack was ready for tomorrow, and we grit our teeth and headed to Costco on a Sunday afternoon. I know. I know. I was there.

The entryway of Costco was carefully stocked with dorm essentials—a desk lamp with a built-in, bladeless fan, fancy water bottles for hiking around campus, mini-fridges, you know the deal. I was perfectly content living in my determined ignorance, but those items caught me off guard. Four years. I am four years from those purchases. Suddenly I was seeing parents and their college freshman all over the store. This one was trying on fleece jackets for a high-elevation winter. That one was shopping for a Chromebook for classroom note-taking. The four years I have left before I fill that role shrunk down into the span of a heartbeat, and I got misty-eyed right there in the middle of the store. I grabbed at my husband’s arm, mumbled something about four years, and stumbled around the store in an emotional haze, suddenly filled with concern about what our daughter would eat for breakfast the following morning.

I didn’t cry on the first day of first grade, a new experience at a new school (we’d bought a house right at the end of Kindergarten, and moved in while we waited for Dad to finish his enlistment and move home). I didn’t cry when she started Middle School two years ago, and I didn’t feel even the slightest twinge of emotion at Parents’ Night (confession: I played dumb games on my phone the whole time) or at Open House, when she got her textbooks and toured her schedule. I only thought wistfully, as I often do when I’m dealing with the nightmare of the woefully-small school parking lot, of the day when she’d be responsible for hauling herself the twelve miles to and from school each day. I wish I could teach her to drive at 14! I’m ready for her to have that freedom, even if she swears to me she’ll never drive a car.


Back at home, I got frantic in the kitchen. I prepped and cooked tray after tray of various proteins—chicken for salads, bacon so she could have more exciting sandwiches, eggs for breakfast burritos. It felt like clear-headed productivity, but eventually I realized that I was keeping myself busy down to the very last second of summer, wearing myself out so I would fall, exhausted, into bed at the end of the evening. I’m only going to have this day three more times, now, and then I’ll be moving her into her dorm. 

After my kitchen madness subsided, (16 breakfasts locked and loaded—I probably won’t make another the whole rest of the year, if I’m being honest), I convinced her to let me smear a mask on her face and straighten her hair. We laughed about how silly we looked, and I clipped her blue tresses up so I could work my way slowly around her head. She told me that a close friend had ended their friendship over text this afternoon, and my heart bruised alongside hers. We talked about how the world gets bigger in high school, and again in college, and that her people exist. I told her they were out there, dying to meet her like she was dying to meet them. We cried and hugged and I told her that it was okay to hurt, and that she was going to be okay. I thanked my stars that I had that moment of awakening, that I wasn’t caught up so much that I missed recognizing how precious this day is, and this year, and how quickly it will be over. I told her, for the hundredth time, about how I sobbed on her first day of Kindergarten. I helped her decide what to wear to school, wiped her face clean, and talked through the plan for the morning.

“Are you going to cry tomorrow, Mom?”

“I don’t know, baby. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow. Get to bed; I’ll see you in the morning.”

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