The morning before first grade, Hadley realized that she had a loose tooth. She was wound up with excitement and anticipation: I knew it would happen this year! What if it hurts when it comes out? Wouldn’t it be cool if it happened at school? What if there’s blood? Does the Tooth Fairy know where I live? (I find it interesting that Hadley believes in the Tooth Fairy but not Santa Claus. I think it has something to do with physics.)
“You’ll be OK, Hadley,” I told her. ”The school handles loose teeth all the time, and if it comes out at home, we know what to do, too.” (I think I know, anyway.)
The afternoon before first grade, Hadley spend a few hours on our blacktop trying to figure out a bike without training wheels. She tried and tried, but had a difficult time finding her balance. Still, she talked of bike rides and picnics and putting a basket on the front of her bike so she can put treasures in it. But she was scared. She didn’t want to fall, she said many times that afternoon, “I don’t want what happened to you to happen to me.”
I told her what happened to me hurt, but I am OK now. ”You’ll be fine,” I said.
The night before first grade, she picked out her school t-shirt to sleep in and we said goodnight to her as she lay in the top bunk with Little House in the Big Woods in hand, her elbows propping her up so she could read the story. I started to say, “Don’t stay up too late reading,” but stopped myself and instead asked, “Do you like the story?”
“Yes, Mama,” she said. “I’m on the last chapter.”
A few minutes after we put her to bed, she came out and said, “Finished.”
It’s normally our custom to say, “Hadley, go to sleep. You have school tomorrow.” Or, “It’s late.” Or, “No, you do not need a drink of water.” The night before first grade, though, Jesse and I unanimously said, “Oooo! Tell us what happened!” Hadley sat down and told us about Pa, and his three daughters, and how he was “deter minded” to shoot a bear but he just couldn’t. ”Especially,” Hadley said, “because one of the animals was a mama and Pa would never shoot a mama animal.”
“Can we get the next book?” Hadley asked. “They’re all at church. Or the library. We could go tomorrow after school. Ooo! But I want to practice on my bike after school. When will I get the next book? I think it’s The Little House on the Prairie, but I’m not sure. Mama, do you know?”
We assured her we would get her a copy of the next book as we shuffled her off to bed. “It’ll be fine,” we said. “There are lots of Little House books.”
The morning of first grade, Hadley was up and dressed at 6:20. I anticipated this and had her pear and juice ready. She gobbled it up because she was waiting for her breakfast of choice: dinosaur oatmeal. You pour hot water over “eggs” and they hatch into dinosaurs. As she ate, I took parts of her lunch out of the fridge and packed them in her lunchbox. I shoved it into her backpack realizing she had a lot of supplies in it, plus another bag filled with boxes of tissue, Clorox wipes, and hand sanitizer. This is a lot of stuff, I thought. I should tell her that this is the only day her bag will be heavy; that she shouldn’t worry about it.
She’ll be fine, I told myself. No need to bring it up.
We walked to the car and Hadley worried she didn’t get the right pencil case. ”It was the only one they had at the store,” I said. “If it’s not the right one, I’ll get you the right one, OK?”
She got in the car, followed by Harper, and both were so excited. I was excited too, and something about the comfort in the school routine, the getting out and doing something in the early morning, the backpacks, the hum of the school buses on the street, the girls sitting in their carseats, made me shut the car door, turn my back for a minute and cry.
“Mama, why are you crying?” Harper asked, and how do you explain that you’re happy and sad at the same time? How do you say you feel like you just learned how to swaddle an infant up in a blanket and now they’re buckling their seatbelts by themselves? How do you explain that you’re grateful for the community you live in, that it’s provided a school, and friends for you and your family but that space when a child is no longer in your house from 9-3 is a boulder that sits on your heart?
“I’m fine,” I said, turning the key in the ignition, and off we went.
At school on the first day of first grade, we found some of our friends and lined up.
These kids and their parents make me laugh. Standing with them on this morning, I felt like we were in this together; that it was OK for it to be a big deal, but it could be a happy deal, too.
And at one point, as Hadley walked in, I saw she was holding hands with one of her buddies. I don’t know who grabbed whose hand, but here they are holding hands walking into first grade together. They’ll be fine.
At home, on the afternoon of the first day of first grade, Hadley didn’t have any homework so we hit the blacktop with her bike. And guess what? She learned how to ride it.
I cheered her on while I cleaned out her pencil box from last year and made little doodles on it so it looked different. Hadley said, “write cool stuff around the box like, ‘rock star’ and ‘awesome.” I wrote, “Hadley, you’re a star,” on it while she pedaled away.
We’re going to be fine.