Happy 5th birthday to my spitfire little soul mate.
You are brave, curious, kind and a complete goofball. I pray your energy, passion and giant heart continue to shape your character, and that every stage of your life brings you new things to explore and more questions to challenge the world with.
I am utterly humbled to learn and grow with you every single day.
This is Lila’s last week at preschool, and no one is surprised that I need to write about my feelings.
The countdown started as a slow rumble months ago; quick conversations among parents about what schools we were touring, comments about how crazy it all felt, and eye rolling over how annoying it was going to be to have multiple drop offs.
But the reality of it didn’t sink in until graduation in May. All of a sudden we entered this maddening time warp where the days seemed to pass more quickly each week. I’m pretty sure five minutes ago I dropped a baby off in the infant room, and now we’re ordering what feels like a nonsensical amount of glue sticks and tissues for a school that’s totally foreign to us.
I can’t wait to see L start kindergarten and soar to new heights — she’s ready for this — but there’s a heavy cloud hanging over the next few days. It’s a mixed bag that’s going to hit me hard when we walk out those familiar doors together on Wednesday.
The way time passes after having children is truly baffling. Last week I attended Meet the Teacher night for Maya, and it just so happened that the 2’s room is now the same room Lila was in as a baby. I hadn’t entered that space in years, and it was a crazy feeling to literally come full circle.
That room is somewhat of a sacred space, because when you drop your baby off to day one at daycare, you’ve never been more vulnerable. Not just in the sense of leaving your little one somewhere new, but because it’s awkward and uncharted territory. I didn’t know where to leave bottles or how long to talk to the teachers, and I was intimidated by every other parent who seemed to have things more together than I did. I wasn’t yet comfortable with the working mom part of my identity and was very focused on trying not to trip in heels while carrying an infant carrier.
If you’d asked me at that very first drop-off what I hoped for from a childcare provider, I probably would have said something about nap schedules and diaper cream. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined what would really matter: the teachers who wore my daughter in a wrap all day because she was colicky. The framed art we’d display made from baby footprints. The email folder full of updates and photos. Over that first year, the classroom came to represent a place of growth and friendships.
After the baby room, we entered the walking toddler room, where all my worrying about napping on cots proved wildly unnecessary. Art projects became more involved and babies started morphing into tiny people who ate with forks and had water play days. Every day was a new adventure that helped toddlers explore and develop.
Then onto the 2’s room, where potty training was this big thing and the kiddos started having birthday parties, themed days and field trips. This helped our parent group come together as a unit, as we started to really understand the magic in the imaginative, child-focused curriculum we’d heard so much about. Our kids were kind of weird, yes, but in the best way.
This was also the room where most of us got pregnant with our second kids, so for the second half of the year the teachers faced regular intervals of displaced, hormonal mom crying. Were the parents higher maintenance than the kids? Very likely. Also, we lost and gained approximately 350 toddler socks this year, and became one with the Moana soundtrack.
Our 3’s room will always make me think about an epic field trip to the science center Pompeii exhibit with 25 kids who had zero problem discussing how bodies were buried and preserved in volcanic ash. They were obsessed with volcanos all freaking year. Also this year the kids really started to play together with intention and learned how to use tools and a sewing machine. The classroom was a perfect depiction of a three-year-old’s mind, where every inch contained something of great significance.
We started love rituals to make goodbyes easier, and saw our small children start to lose their baby chub. This was also the year the kids spent a great deal of time talking about habitats, which segued into raising money to help purchase tents for the homeless.
As we entered the official pre-k room, we saw a continuation of very special friendships. Our teachers have often remarked that the kiddos who were entering their fifth year together truly had a sibling-like relationship. They fight hard but they love even harder. They know each other so well and work through conflict more effectively than most adults I know. The social and emotional development this past year has given us a chance to see these kids grow into themselves and learn to communicate and regulate their feelings.
Daycare and preschool teachers are quick to correct anyone who says they are raising other peoples’ children, but the truth is, they are a huge piece of how we raise our children — one we choose and cherish. They are present for countless pivotal moments in our kids’ lives, and also in our lives as parents. They’re more valuable than any parenting book, well-intentioned relative or answer you can google, and I understand now why my mom still remembers the names of the preschool teachers I had 30+ years ago. I will forever view our teachers as an extension of our family.
Then there are the other families we’ve been so fortunate to have on this journey. Where can I begin? Milestone by milestone we’ve been blessed with extra sets of eyes, helping hands and huge hearts. Other moms and dads who don’t hesitate to love on your kids, text you to let you know what the kids were doing when they dropped off after you, and cover for you when you’re late or away.
Moms who are further down the parenting road and give the most reassuring advice, and who don’t bat an eye when you stroll out of school carrying a filthy child, soiled clothes bag, cereal box full of rocks and seven paper towel rolls. I always knew Lila would make friends at school; what I didn’t expect was for our entire family to create lasting and meaningful friendships.
The hardest part about this transition is seeing these kids move on from such an incredible community. This hasn’t just been a school, it’s been a home away from home for the past five years. It’s forever changed the trajectory of Lila’s life, and no doubt mine as well. It’s been a pretty amazing ride, and I feel so much love and gratitude to everyone who’s been a part of this chapter. And while I’m so sad for what we’re leaving behind, I’m more thankful for everything we’ve gained along the way. And I have to believe we’ve only just begun.
Despite all the fun and adventure, there’s disorganization and challenges when kids are taken out of their normal environment and structure. I’ve thought a lot this week about the balance Jim brings to my default parenting style, and how much that benefits the girls.
Sometimes our differences make things tough (introvert and extrovert extremes over here), but as parents our personalities somehow bring things to a happy medium. I am a worst case scenario master, he is preternaturally positive. As I have heart palpitations considering all the horrible things that might happen in any given situation, he stays steady and present.
Years ago I resented this, but now I often find myself looking to him for cues: when will he tell Lila to step back from toeing too close to something risky, without killing her confidence? When does it really not make sense to eat out with tired kids (my nightmare) vs when can we rally and make it work?
We had an awesome last day in Hawaii that he planned, and did things I never would’ve attempted with kids, but they did great and it made some incredible memories.
Now that we’re back home I’ll go back to being annoyed when he doesn’t put his underwear in the hamper, but felt the need to give this guy a shoutout for being super dad/husband/chauffeur/chef all week.
Pictures tend to show the dreamy parts of vacations, and ultimately, that’s what we remember, but believe me – there were meltdowns and challenges aplenty this week – just as there are for everyone traveling with little ones. That just means you’re doing it right.
I can’t believe today is your pre-school graduation. (I also can’t believe how much of a cliché I am, tearing up as I type that sentence.) In a few hours we’ll watch you on stage with a miniature mortarboard and long-rehearsed songs and poems, and in a few more months you’ll take the next step to kindergarten.
You’ve earned this, and you’re ready, and we are unbelievably proud of you – not just for what you’ve done, but who you’ve become.
Transitions prompt you to summarize feelings, and I’ve been trying my best, but the emotions I feel about this season are hard to nail down. I’m excited for you, nostalgic for the school and community you’ll be leaving, and nervous about the world you’re growing up in.
I’m reflective on your journey toward today, and the indescribable ways you’ve changed my life over the past four years, nine months and 18 days. Because truthfully, I don’t think I ever really knew who I was before you. Maybe on some level I had an idea, but you opened my eyes and my heart to an entirely different world, one more colorful and dynamic than I could have believed existed. Once you arrived, everything suddenly mattered far more or less, based only on how it might impact you.
When you first started at this school, you were 12 weeks old. Tiny! And colicky! I was exhausted, back to work full-time, and unsure what any of that meant. I was straddling what felt like separate worlds and blended identities.
I expected daycare to be a transactional relationship; we pay them, they care for you, we wash bottles, they change diapers. But I was so wrong. I had no idea we landed at a truly remarkable school, one that would ultimately become a central part of our family’s community.
Over the years, you’ve grown from a floppy infant into a self-assured, gregarious young lady. You first entered these halls strapped in an infant carrier, and now you sprint down them on your own. We’ve had tears and laughter and sickness and artwork and biting and field trips and soiled clothes and school pictures and thousands of daily sheets detailing your snacks, naps and BMs.
We’ve both made best friends and found treasured teachers. We grew. Then we grew some more. You and I? We both found our rhythm. You let me ease into motherhood when it didn’t feel natural, and you continue to give me grace when I wing it and make mistakes.
So today, as we celebrate your accomplishments, I want to thank you. For being patient when I’ve been clueless, for being kind when I was not, and for leading with your heart. For being authentically Lila, and no one else. Mostly, thank you for being the best person for all the best reasons.
I know you will continue to amaze us and share your gifts with the world, and I’m honored to be along for the ride.
On one hand, we can’t remember life before you arrived — it feels like another lifetime. But at the same time, two years has passed in the blink of an eye.
You have truly come into your own over the past few months, and your personality continues to shine. You are an observer, and process the world around you on your own time. You have become wildly determined to do everything your big sister does, and your favorite catch phrase lately is, “I do myself! I do myself!”
Whether it’s fastening your carseat buckles, brushing your teeth or opening bubbles, hell hath no fury like a toddler who received unwanted assistance in a simple task.
You have a true air of mischief to your personality. When you know you’re doing something against the rules, like climbing onto the kitchen counters or bolting away when you need a diaper change, you giggle maniacally continue to crack yourself up until the game ends.
You love to play hide and seek with Lila, and to be chased. You are remarkably good at entertaining yourself, and have an affinity for dramatic play (feeding your baby, tucking things in, patting me to sleep, etc.). Overall, we’re amazed at how well you and Lila play and interact — you have an almost twin-like secret communication style, even when you completely test your sister’s patience. It’s not perfect, but it’s often quite adorable.
Your morning bed head is a thing of beauty, but you love to tell me, “do mah hair, mommy,” because that’s what your sister gets.
You’ve started to pee on the potty all by yourself occasionally, but we have no plans for formal potty training any time soon.
You are a great night time sleeper, and share your bed with four stuffed sheep, a baby doll and your water bottle, every single night. Before bed we read books and then you sit in your glider while mom or dad sits on the floor and sings to you. You LOVE to sing, and regale us with childhood hits upon request.
I am so thankful that you are still a snuggler, and those squishes are pure redemption, even on the most challenging of days.
Your emphatic little voice legitimately makes my stomach swoon, and it’s so fun now that you are becoming so verbal. You’re stringing up to 6-7 words together and new phrases pop up each week.
You eat pretty much everything, and are a huge fan of cereal with milk, cottage cheese and any condiment you can spread all over your body.
You are very content playing by yourself or with others, but I sense more of an introvert vibe. Only time will tell.
Lately, you’ve started describing emotions of those around you. If a child is crying, you’ll point and say, “baby sad.” And just this weekend when I took away a lollipop you somehow ended up with, you screamed at me and then quieted down and whispered, “I sad.”
You’re obsessed with picking up the dog poop in the backyard, going to get the mail and taking walks in the wagon. You are less of a fan of shoes, having your hair washed and the sound of the dust buster.
We love you so very much, and each day is better because you are in it. Happy 2nd birthday sweet girl.
We stopped at a red light today and Lila noticed a homeless man with a sign on the street. “What do his words say, mom?” “His sign says he’s hungry, baby. Should we give him some food?” She nodded and I handed him some of the snacks we keep in the car.
And then the questions began. “Where does he sleep if he has no home? Is he thirsty? What if he has nothing to snuggle with? Is he sad? I hope other people share with him, too, cause then he’d have enough.”
I’ve played this conversation out in my head countless times since reading ‘The Power of Half.’ A child’s heart and logic can’t make sense of the inequities that exist around us. They see the fastest path toward a solution and pursue it.
A teachable moment, sure, but I’ve started to recognize that my job is less about shaping this girl into something grand. She’s already there. All our kiddos are. We just need to not get in their way.
Last week I had a chance to read to Lila’s pre-k class, an experience that was equal parts terrifying (25 unfiltered small children in my personal space) and rewarding (25 people giving me their undivided attention with zero judgement).
We read The Lorax, a current favorite, and when I say “we,” I mean it – sister co-narrated the entire book with me. It went really well — until the last page. The page with the quote this story is always known for:
UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, It’s not.
Literally out of NOWHERE I totally choked up reading it: tears, croaky voice, etc. I managed to semi-awkwardly finish and my adorable audience didn’t seem to notice.
I’ve read this story no fewer than 40 times and I’ve never reacted that way before. I don’t actually know if I’ve ever had an emotional response to a children’s book. It felt completely out of character and I spent the evening analyzing wtf had overcome me in that classroom.
And honestly, I think it was the fact that earlier that day I’d heard a gut wrenching NPR story interviewing survivors of various school shootings. The raw emotion of that segment was enough to bring anyone to tears, made infinitely worse by the fact that beyond thoughts and prayers, I have to wonder what we’ve actually done to keep our babies safer.
I saw the article below the same day and recognized that ultimately, what I experienced in that classroom was a profound sadness about an inevitable loss of innocence — of safety and protection — that’s been kept sacred within those walls.
I’m not just talking about violent acts, though.
Lila and her classmates — many of whom I’ve known since they were babies — will go to kindergarten later this year. And no matter where we obsess about sending them, and how many school tours we endure, every one of them will start a new chapter. Each of them will shed the last remaining traces of toddlerhood in exchange for full-fledged childhood.
And it’s amazing. And exciting. But also so, so, sad. This change marks the end of a beautiful, insulated stage of life and motherhood. One that’s been challenging, sure, but indescribably wonderful.
That Lorax quote though…it makes me question if I (or anyone, really) is caring enough — a whole awful lot — to make the world a better place for the next generation. And for better or for worse, that’s enough to make me cry in front of two dozen small humans.