We’re wrapping up Olive’s second week of Grade 1, and so far, it’s been a bit nuts. I mean, exciting and milestone-y and deeply gratifying, but nuts nonetheless.
The whole thing began earlier than I’d intended – at 5 AM last Tuesday morning, her first day of school.
I’d gone to bed well past midnight and then found myself completely unable to sleep. I just lay there – for hours – and finally drifted off around 3-4 am, only to be woken up at 5 AM by Olive padding into my room and snuggling herself in beside me.
Normally this would be fine. I quite like nighttime visits from my cozy, wild-haired daughter. This time, however, she slid in beside me and then proceeded to talk at me for the next two and a half hours. Questions. Random non sequiturs. Observations. Reflections. The content of this conversation was fascinating, but have you ever tried to be fascinated at 5 AM? It’s impossible. As far as I’m concerned, there is no good reason anyone should ever be saying anything to me at 5 AM in the morning.
Then it got worse. As she launched into Hour Two of her spirited monologue, I reached over to pull the covers up over my shoulders, hoping it would muffle the sound a bit.
It certainly wasn’t unheard of for me to do this, Olive and I find ourselves in a perpetual blanket war whenever she sneaks into my bed. She’s a furnace and continually kicks the covers off, whereas I exist in a permanent state of near-freezing, with my hands and feet regularly resembling ice blocks. So, she had kicked the covers off (again) and I reached over to pull them back up, but at that exact moment, she leaned in towards me to snuggle her head into my chest.
Guys, my hand connected with her face in the darkness of the early morning and I ended up basically impaling one of my nails into her face. She started crying and said she felt bleeding, so I told her to close her eyes while I turned on the light to assess the damage.
There weren’t any visible marks, so I apologized profusely, comforted her as best I could, and we went back to sleep for a whole seventeen minutes until my alarm went off.
We made our way blearily through our morning routines and everything seemed fine – if a little rushed – until I started to do her hair. While clipping her bangs back, she happened to glance to her right and I gasped. She had a horrifying, pencil-eraser-sized bloody spot on the white of her eye. An injury, I quickly realized, that I had inflicted by accidentally clawing her in the face. The morning of her very first day of Grade 1.
#MotherOfTheYear, right here.
There’s almost nothing worse than knowing you’ve hurt your own child. It’s happened to me once before, while clipping her nails at two months old I accidentally clipped the top of her tiny finger, too. The feeling on Tuesday morning was the same as it was back then. That heart-dropping sense of guilt, a desperate wish to rewind time.
I immediately texted a picture to my mom (ex-pediatric ER nurse) to see if I needed to take her to the hospital, but she assured me it was just a surface injury and would heal within the week.
I couldn’t stop apologizing as we finished getting ready. I wondered if I should send a note to her new teacher to let her know that I don’t typically make a habit of clawing my child in the eye, but decided against it.
When we got to her school, we milled around with the other parents and students outside, everyone fresh-faced and in new clothes, eagerly checking class lists and reuniting with buddies they missed over the summer. Olive wasn’t in the same class as her best friend and was feeling quite sad about that already when the bell rang and it was time to say goodbye.
She looked up at me from her place in the lineup and suddenly she looked so small. I could see her eyes welling up with tears as her teacher took her hand and led her inside.
It was a hard goodbye, and the sleepless night and chaotic morning hadn’t helped.
We tried to take it easy that first week. Limited after-school activities. Early bedtimes. But no matter how early I got her fed, read, and tucked into bed, she’d lie there awake – her mind racing – for hours.
There’s no doubt that she liked Grade 1, each afternoon when I picked her up she was full of bubbly stories and grins and “best day ever!”s, but the next morning her eyes would well up again when it was time to say goodbye, and she’d be quietly crying as her teacher led her away.
I’ve learned that it’s the goodbye itself that’s the tough part, so it’s best to get it done in one swift motion, like pulling off a band-aid. A hug, a kiss, and an “I love you” before leaving. She recovers quickly and then, the hard part done, she can get on with enjoying herself. But it will never not feel wrong, to turn and walk away from your own child as she cries.
Now it’s week two and things are settling into their own rhythm, the rhythm of things for the next twelve years.
Each morning is a flurry of breakfast and getting dressed, fights with the hairbrush, hustling to school. Each evening is crammed with making dinner, going to after-school activities, completing home reading, and signing parent notices.
Each day ends with me in a quiet house, loading the dishwasher and beginning to tidy up with it softly humming and churning in the background. Wiping countertops and sorting shoes, clearing the living room of craft detritus and toy debris. Making her lunch for tomorrow.
When it’s all done, I wash my face and meet the gaze of my reflection in the mirror. Every so often, I feel my past selves slowly layer over me like transparencies.
Me at 17, moving away to university and crying when my own mother left.
Me at 21, moving to BC after graduation.
At 26 becoming a wife.
At 28 becoming a mother.
Then, at 31, plunging headlong into what looked a lot like darkness but was in fact, the path to a new world, a new life, and a new understanding of myself.
When I do finally lie down, I usually can’t sleep. No matter how early I get myself into bed, I end up lying there – my mind racing – for hours.
As different as we are, Olive and I often mirror each other like this. Her life and mine, repeating and layering over each other like transparencies. I often think about when I first saw her, looking like a little gummy bear on a tiny black-and-white ultrasound photo.
Her when she was born, dark-haired and calm. Lying on my chest like she was meant to be there all along.
Her at two months old, propped up on my knees, gurgling at me after a midnight feeding.
At her first birthday, grinning with two tiny bottom teeth, looking like the happiest little bulldog.
At a year and a half, chubby and precocious, constantly naked.
At three, testing me with everything she had.
Four, displaying introspection and kindness.
And now, five. My tall, leggy, curious girl. Constantly inventing and asking and caring so deeply about plants and animals. Capable of startling admissions of self-awareness. Fits of temper. Giggling, rapturous joy. She feels things so deeply – like I do. I hope she never loses that, even though I know in my bones it means that life will hurt a little more.
It’s worth it though, isn’t it?
Being a parent is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever done. Doing it well doesn’t change that. It means feeling love for two people, disappointment for two people, hurt for two people, hope for two people. Our futures are so intimately intertwined that everything that happens in my life – relationships beginning and ending, work pressures, my fluctuating health – deeply impacts hers as well. And everything that happens in her life – the presence or absence of friends, overcoming fears, embracing challenges – lands squarely on my shoulders, too.
Sometimes it seems like this is far harder than it might be in a two-parent family because I hold all of it in my hands. It’s just me here. Arms outstretched, palms open, wrists exposed. It’s up to me to keep it balanced and safe and moving forward. If I let go, we both fall.
Sometimes it seems easier because when I choose a direction, there’s no negotiation. We just bravely set out. Her and I.
So, we’re adjusting to Grade 1. We’re slowly adjusting to our new routines and our new lives. Each day, I grow a little prouder of this person I created. I’m so awestruck by the strength of her character, the depths of her compassion, the clever way she thinks. Her resilience. Always, always her resilience in the face of such massive, life-altering change.
She makes me want to be better for her and stronger for her and make better choices, for both of us.
So. Onward. We’re ready.