Six years ago I started this blog as a cathartic reaction to feeling overwhelmed and frightened by the byzantine San Francisco public school lottery process. Writing about the process gave me and outlet to (white) whine while I worked through my many complicated feelings about my oldest children crossing the school threshold.
At the center of all my fretting was a sweet little girl who began her elementary school journey at our sweet little kindergarten. She liked school and things were going well enough. Then one day she asked me to pack her a napkin in her lunch.
“Are there napkins at the school?” I said.
“Yes, but I’m too scared to go ask for one.”
Be still my heart. I wanted to give that nervous baby twenty napkins stuffed in every pocket like a protective mama force-field. So the next day I made sure to pack one in her lunch, and I have given her a napkin in her lunch every day since. It’s one of those symbolic parenting things that we like to do and then write sentimental blog posts about.
Today that girl is confident and strong and helps little kids who are timid at her school. I won’t say she’s graceful because she’s not. But she’s still lovely on her awkward edge of adolescence. She’s tall. Almost as tall as me. It’s like hugging a friend. Except I have to remind myself that she’s still a child in so many ways.
And we recently had to do the school lottery thing again, this time to apply for middle school. We got the letter and all is well – we got our first choice school. I relaxed into the relief at surviving yet another school lottery nail-biter and then dove headfirst into the realty that my first baby is about to leave elementary school behind.
The Sunday evening after we got the middle school letter I packed lunches to get ahead for the next morning. I grabbed a napkin out of habit to put in the girls’ lunch boxes. And the memory of that 5-year-old, too scared to get a napkin, made it hard for me to breathe for a good ten seconds. Before I knew what was happening, big juicy tears trailed my cheeks.
Six years in a flash. And this coming fall she will walk down the hill from her elementary school with the Big Kids to middle school. And push me away. And text. And have crushes. And gossip. And become elated. And become devastated. And want to dye her hair or shave it off. And wear clothes that are too revealing or that hide her developing body. And be a slob. And keep secrets. And do her own thing. And make her own lunch. And find her own damn napkins.
I will miss her being a part of the elementary school community – where our family will be for many years due to our gaggle of kids. I am grateful for kind teachers who inspire, for adult friends I have fallen in love with, and for many children who fill my heart like little nieces and nephews.
Sure, I still have my middle baby girl. Sure I still have an infant baby. I’m not done with elementary school years by a long shot. But there’s something primal in seeing that first kid move on. And knowing that she’s big enough and wise enough to get her own napkin in middle school.