Dear Little Girl I Used to Know,
You just started your first day of fifth grade. I know that in six hours this peace enveloping me at home for the first time in two months will again be pervaded by the forced studio laughter of the Disney Channel or the bubblegum reverberating from your boombox, but it will be different even though they are the same sounds we shared together all summer.
Today is your last first day of elementary school. You’ll have many more first days, academically speaking. There’s middle school and high school, definitely. Maybe a first day of college if I can ever convince you that reading is, while boring from the prospective of a 10-year-old fueled by the swooning pleas of Justin Beiber, still pretty essential to getting somewhere beyond definitively average.
But this was the last first day that I will ever walk you through those doors and into that alternative reality of homeroom.
The last one at which I’d personally hand your teacher a note about why your need sunscreen and a hat when outdoors while trying to quickly explain what sets you apart from all the other kids medically but pretty much not in any other detectable way.
The last one where you’d really be a little girl in more than just my memories. You and I and Mom all know this.
Middle school, sweetie, it changes a kid. Girls, especially. The meanest classmates I ever had were in middle school and most of them were girls. They say girls mature faster; I say they grow up too soon for their own good. We boys, we like to stay boys well past our due date. That, you’ll learn, can be a good thing. Within reason.
I wish I had a photo from your first day of preschool after we moved here. You were so excited to be with kids your own age again after two years of hanging around with nannies and nurses and doctors. You were only supposed to be in preschool for half a day, to get you acclimated to your new surroundings, but when I came to pick you up, you asked if you really had to leave all your new best friends in your whole wide 5-year-old world. So you stayed. Your brother, he cried when he saw me a few minutes later and pleaded to come home for lunch and a comforting heap of Nick Jr.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen you all pudgy faced and stuffed with the wonder you readily ate out of the everydayness of life. Remember that Disney Princess backpack from kindergarten? You transported a zillion paintings and drawings and scribblings home with you in that pink and purple nylon time capsule. You said you wanted to be an art teacher. I said even art teachers need to learn to read. You shrugged and Crayola-ed on.
This moment from the first day of first grade might have be the happiest you had all year. Through some quirk, not one of your 20-odd kindergarten classmates ended up in your new class. A bully refused daily to let you play “Family,” telling you you couldn’t even be the family’s dog. In class, several other kids always required too much of the teachers’ attention. You suffered for it. We laid on your bed one night way too late into the school year and you cried – one of the only half dozen times you ever cried from something other than physical pain. You hated school. Hated those kids. You didn’t fit in and you didn’t know why. I wish I had a better answer for you then. Or now.
Your brother joined you the next year. It was a battle of bad haircuts. His too short, yours all kinky because you wanted to sleep in tight braids so you could look all frilly for your debut in second grade. With a little extra help from teachers this year and some friendly faces in the desks next to yours, this was when things started to click for you.
And that bully? When you saw him on the playground, you put him in his place by chasing him around under the threat of being kissed. I laughed when you told me this then, but sweet thing, this was the first time you struck fear in my heart for the teen years ahead.
By the next year, while your brother still needed to physically push Mom and me out of his second-grade classroom to make him feel empowered about the whole going-to-school thing, you wanted us out of sight as soon as possible. You stopped kissing me goodbye when I’d drop you off at the side door in the morning this year. Some days, I couldn’t even get you to kiss our dog goodbye.
I knew it would happen. I knew it would hurt. I understand it, though, and I’m over it. That doesn’t mean I still can’t miss the way it used to be.
And here we are. We had to bargain with you for this last photo. Mom promised not to talk to anyone once inside the school and I promised not to cross the homeroom threshold.
We have officially become the enemy that loves you from a distance so your friends won’t see and that loves you quietly so the world won’t hear.
Loathe us publicly as you must, remember we are still your parents and we are always there for you, our sweet little Pumpkin Head: then, now and forever.