My Baby is Going to Kindergarten

My baby is going to Kindergarten. These are her first steps of being a big kid, but she'll always be my baby.

“Tell me again about when I was a baby.”

My daughter’s interest in her life as a baby has peaked of recent, to hear the stories about her birth, how we felt when driving her home from the hospital, our first moments home, how I cared for her, the baths, diaper changes, and feeding.

It was six years ago. I’m sleeping now. The milk in my breasts has dried up. The diapers are gone. But why, when I look at her do I still see my baby girl?

I lay in the hospital bed, the cold white sheets pulled up to my chest. Tucked in, hiding the traumatized bottom half of my body that just hours before held her inside. The summer was transitioning to fall, it was hot outside but inside she was swaddled and wrapped in blankets. She lay still in the plastic bassinet. I watched her chest puff up and then back down. The room was quiet, but for the gentle buzzing and beeping coming from the nurse’s station. Her father, also motionless, slept on the pull-out couch. I couldn’t sleep, exhilarated from the birth, I just wanted to watch her. The morning sun lit the room up and all I could think was how proud I was, not how hurt or exhausted, just proud and at peace.

Now when I lay on her bottom bunk, I stare up at the pine planks that line the bed and I try and retell her the stories of her life as a baby. Stuck in the moment, fearful I have forgotten and then another story fills my head. My arms snake under and over her body, as I hug her close and smell her sweaty head. I jog another story from my mind.

She doesn’t know this and I don’t tell her, but those infant times were hard. Desperation, hard. I didn’t know what to do with my baby or how to be a good mother. And the irony is that as Kindergarten approaches, I find myself at the same juncture again. I’m nostalgic and cry for the time when her skin was folded, her hair was fuzz and a strip on her diaper told me she needed a diaper change. The time, while challenging, seems simple now.

In this next phase of motherhood, as she enters Kindergarten, I’m vulnerable. I feel challenged by her independence. I don’t know what’s next for her; the joys and the challenges she will face. She will exist in a place where she is free to be whoever she wants with little observation or guidance from me, and that is frightening and beautiful all at the same time.

Just as her first foods, sitting up, crawling and walking were moments we won’t forget, there are new life milestones to note.

The rush of seeing her take off for the first time on her bike without training wheels.

The slow stumble of words when she is learning to read.

The first lemonade stand sale. and that inevitable time when she’s made a friend and wants you to pretend like you aren’t there. The milestones will continue and be bigger than the last.

My baby is going to Kindergarten. It’s her first step into being a big kid, no longer a baby. She’ll always be my baby girl, though. The baby memories and these new Kindergarten ones will be tucked into my heart and mind. Someday she’ll ask me to recount her days as a Kindergartener, and just like I am now, I’ll have a smile in my heart but tears in my eyes and I’ll jog a story from my mind.

This essay was originally posted on Dining with Alice.

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