I Know Kindergarten Isn’t a Big Deal — Except For When It Is

Jennifer White on her daughter's first day of school.

I'm putting on a brave face, but I don't always feel brave.

I'm holding so much inside that I have to be careful to not snap at my family for no reason. What I'm holding in is all of these concerns and weighty feelings I have for my daughter as she goes to kindergarten.

I know — it's just kindergarten. I logically know she'll love it and that it's a relatively easy first step in the many things that wait ahead for her, and for us. I know it's not that big of a deal. Except for it is.

It's my first baby's first time being gone all day, away from me, with other people for more of her awake hours than in my care. It's her first time experiencing so many of the many interactions with other people, both wonderful and awful that are inevitable parts of life.

I know that my job as a parent is to help her as she experiences these things, not to shield her. Yet I am her shield, because although she's getting "big," she's still so small.

And she's nervous. I was surprised when she told me so. She told me she was scared, and it made me sad because I had no idea. We talked about what she was nervous about. I tried to both soothe her, as well as let her know she can always talk to me, even when I can't "fix" it.

She's nervous, so I paint on my smile. Some mornings, mascara helps because it makes me not want to cry. But I do show her my feelings.

I'm not completely false and inhibited in offering her my own strong emotions about her going to full-day school for the first time, but I am the grown-up. She needs me to be strong. She needs to know that part of being strong is sometimes crying and feeling sad, but she also needs to see my happiness, and the excited anticipation I have for all that lies ahead for her this coming year.

Because the truth is that while I am sad, I'm also ecstatic. I know she'll love school. I know we'll miss each other. I know it will be both.

I know we'll both adjust, because that's what people — and especially children — do. I know we'll have new things to look forward to, like the coveted after-school snack. I know that from here on out our life is different. It's changing. It's evolving. Life does this, whether we fight it or embrace it — it moves and shifts.

But I can't help noticing that lately I find myself just looking at her; just looking at the way the dimple in her chin becomes deeper when she throws her head back and laughs with her baby sister. I find myself frequently plopping onto the middle of the carpet more and more often, with my daughter asking, "What are you doing, Mommy?" and me answering, "Just sitting here," as I pull her and her little sister into my lap to read.

I'm finding how true it is that laundry, and dishes, and phone calls, and nearly everything can wait, at least for a few minutes, at least for one book. I'm already discovering how I wish I could go back in time and stop what I was doing when she asked me to play dolls more often than I probably did.

And I know this transition will be even harder for this little sister left at home than it will be for me, so these smiles and cuddles of mine are for her, too.

I'm putting on a brave face, but my face crumples and leaks tears more often than I wish it did. I'm putting on a brave face, and I'm smiling at tiny things I might not have noticed so easily just last year when kindergarten seemed a world away.

I'm putting on a brave face even though I know I'll smile and wave to her as the school bus leaves our driveway, and that then, after it's out of sight, I'll silently sob as I walk back up the front steps.

I'm putting on a brave face, and I'll be doing it all over again in a few years for this little sister. I'll be doing it again for high school, and college, and for so many things that right now seem that world away.

But, for right now, I have an almost kindergartner, a toddler still home with me, and the clarity and gratitude to stop and simply appreciate it.

This blog originally appeared on the author's website, www.jenniferswhite.com. You can also follow her on Facebook.