The day was warm and beautiful; the perfect early summer weather. It was a Tuesday, much like every Tuesday, but very different. That day was a turning point. It was a day to celebrate, but also a day I had hoped wouldn’t arrive so quickly. It was the day Pre-K was officially over for my daughter.
My daughter — my fighter, who was born with a serious congenital heart defect and was hospitalized for many weeks before having her first open-heart surgery as an infant. My daughter — my heart who, despite her struggles and developmental delays, continues to be a bright spot in the day of everyone she meets. My daughter — my hero, who continues to overcome her challenges and surprises everyone with what she can achieve.
I have held back the tears (so far) but have used several crying face emojis on social media when discussing this milestone. I am not sad about no longer paying tuition for a daycare, not attending a pre-school child’s birthday party every weekend, or no longer having a daily influx of finger paintings and macaroni necklaces. I am sad because this is the end of an important stage of childhood for my first-born, and it’s all happening too fast.
In a few months I will no longer have a “pre-schooler.” No. Come autumn, I will officially have a “school-age” child. I want to ask, “How did this happen, that my baby is all grown up?!” but I already know. I saw this coming. I watched my baby grow from an infant, into a toddler, into a preschooler, and, now, into a big kid. I watched her face transform from pudgy, round baby cheeks into the slender, angular features of a young girl. I watched, helpless to slow down the process. I watched in awe, with joy, and heartache, and pride. I watched. I will now watch as my “baby” enjoys her last summer before entering the “big school.” This is the last season where she can play the days away as my pre-schooler. The last season before Kindergarten.
I worry about this transition to Kindergarten. This is a big deal for all families, as they prepare to send their little ones off to a new place where they’ll be spending most of their days for 10 months out of the year. Because my daughter has special needs, we have already been working with the school district to determine the best placement for her when she begins school. We have been planning and prepping to send her off to a place where people don’t know her, but only know what is written on paper about her. I have been working tirelessly to put a face to her name, a personality to her percentile rankings, an individual to her IEP.
Given my daughter’s circumstance, I think the emotional struggle of “letting go” of my baby is even more pronounced for me. I have always sheltered her a little more than my friends sheltered their children of the same age. I have always been in protection mode, looking to keep her safe at all times. I have spent much of the past five years researching, advocating, and fighting for her in every way. Preparing to give up some of the control is a difficult task.
I worry about September, when the day comes to help my little, big girl board the yellow bus and head off to school. I worry that she will feel lost in the big school. I worry she will be too shy to ask for help from the teacher when she needs it. I worry that the students in her class may not be as accepting as her group of friends in Pre-K. I worry that her differences, which we accept as quirky, endearing, and “just Evie,” will make her stand out to her peers. I worry. I am her mom, and I will always worry.
Even through the worry and sadness, I do know that turning the page on this chapter of my daughter’s young life will lead to the next exciting part of her story. This is how it has always been, and how it will continue to be. I know from my experience that each stage of parenting is more fulfilling than the last. As my daughter grows, I continue to be in awe of her accomplishments. My baby who fought through serious medical issues, not only beat the odds, but flourished. My little one who didn’t walk until she was 2 1/2 years old, now runs and plays and cannot be stopped from jumping off the bottom step of any staircase, no matter how many warnings we give. My big girl who could barely talk for several years now asks, “Can you fast forward, please?” when a commercial interrupts her favorite show on DVR. She amazes and impresses me daily, and I know she will blossom during this new stage of her life. I hope with all my heart her teachers will be able to see what I do.
My daughter, my beautiful, smart, and special daughter, is growing up. Although many things in life are not certain, there is one thing that always will be. No matter what — no matter how old she is or where she goes to school (or work) — she will always, always be my baby.