Monday, September 17, 2007

Sometimes homework for parents is a good thing

(Originally published 8/11/07)

My husband and I joined the legions of other parents this week that sent their firstborns to kindergarten.

Facing this rite of passage, we tried to forget how quickly our daughter has grown from being the baby that, it seems, we brought home from the hospital just yesterday. But reminders, like the new haircut that somehow makes her look even older than before, are everywhere.

We met the teacher on Tuesday. Who knew that she would give the year’s first assignment to the parents? She asked for a letter about our daughter – about her experiences, personality, hobbies, interests and learning style. What is important for me to know about your child? she asked. What will help me respond to her individual needs?

And so, after collaborating with my husband, I sat down on Wednesday night to reflect on who our daughter is.

The house was quiet; everyone else was asleep, which is no small miracle in our house with three kids under the age of five. In the silence and with a blank page before me, I pondered the last five and a half years and the way that baby we brought home has become such an integral part of our lives – indeed, how the memory of life before her hardly seems like life at all.

This summer has been big for her. She’s learned to swim. She’s lost a tooth. And she’s beginning to find the courage to face some of her remaining fears.

She became a big sister for the second time. She can work her way through beginners’ books and takes great pride in reading to her younger siblings. She’s as cautious and careful as she is observant and thoughtful, and she cheerfully seizes any chance she has to take care of others.

All in all, her excitement about entering kindergarten and satisfaction with being a "big girl" bring a smile to her face that offers a glimpse of the young woman she will all too soon be.

I wondered, assuredly with countless other parents in quiet rooms throughout the country, where the time went and how I can slow its deceptive pace.

Thursday dawned, and it was fire drill time at our house as we got everything ready to go. It was a whirlwind, and I was fine – until we walked in the door at school.

It all seemed to hit me at that moment. Suddenly I became keenly aware of every moment I’ve spent away from my girl. Excitement fueled her steady step, and she walked with confidence and purpose, even as I slowed and realized that I was holding her hand a little tighter. All at once, we arrived; she took her place among dozens of other bright-eyed boys and girls, and it was time for us to go. I murmured a prayer over her, kissed her cheek and wished her the best, sending her off on the first steps that will eventually lead to her leaving us someday.

I am so thankful to that teacher for our homework assignment. Reflecting on all the wonderful things about our daughter helped me gain a broad, fresh perspective on her life. Perhaps without meaning to, our teacher reminded me to slow down and enjoy our daughter’s all-too-fleeting childhood.

I challenge you to write a letter about the special kids in your life. What would you say about them if you were entrusting them to a stranger? What makes those kids who they are? But beware: Tears often follow on the heels of perspective, and the PTA’s next "Kleenex and Coffee" event isn’t until next year.

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