“Your eyes searched for me the moment you walked out of your classroom today. Your face broke into a wide smile, the kind that makes your right dimple peek through. You ran towards me and threw your arms around my neck.
I don’t know who was more excited about our reunion after 4 hours.
You handed me a stack of pieces of colored paper, all cut out into different shapes. They were crinkled ever so slightly from your warm clutch.
‘Mama, look what I made!’
I gushed at your masterpieces. You were the most proud of one you had cut out in the shape of a heart, its edges beautifully jagged with persistence and focus. I felt my own heart swell, my pride matching yours. You’ve been adjusting so well to being away from me 3 mornings a week. When people ask me how you’re doing, I tell them with an air of relief how easily you’ve gotten into the swing of things; how you haven’t cried for me once and how glad I am you’re taking it all in your stride.
‘Shall we put these up on the fridge when we get home?,’ I asked, crouching in front of you and holding your hand in mine.
You paused for a moment, almost reluctant to answer me. Your gaze became solemn and your lower lip quivered slightly as you responded to me.
‘No, I don’t want to.’
You said it quietly, your usually steady voice shaking a little. I saw that familiar twitch at the corners of your mouth – the one I’ve come to recognize as a signal you’re trying to be strong and putting all of your energy into not crying.
You were so happy just now – what happened? Did I say something? My mind raced, replaying our 90-second interaction, wondering what blunder I had made to change your mood so drastically.
I slowly stood up and gathered your things. You looked even closer to tears then, and I gently asked you, ‘Are you okay?’
You responded by holding your arms up to me, asking to be carried without saying a word. It’s a rarely seen remnant of a younger you, one that takes me back to when you had just started walking and would get tired after a little while.
‘Maybe she’s just exhausted after a long morning,’ I thought to myself as I hoisted you up on my hip. You rested your head on my shoulder and I stroked your dark curls and planted a kiss on your cheek.
Your teacher was standing by the door, so I walked over to her and mouthed silently, ‘Was she okay today?’
She told me you were great, you had been cheerful and chatty and there hadn’t been anything out of character. I nodded and thanked her, and we got in the car.
As we started driving home, I told you how much I missed you this morning, and how happy I was we were going to spend the whole afternoon and evening together.
You looked out the window as you spoke.
‘Some kids at school want to cry sometimes.’
‘Oh, really?’ I said. ‘Did someone cry at school today?’
‘No. But sometimes the kids want to cry because they want to just stay with you,’ you paused, ‘Stay with their moms.’ You made a point of correcting yourself.
I felt a tug deep in my chest. I started to see where this was going.
‘Do you think some kids miss their moms while they’re at school?,’ I asked.
‘Yeah. They miss their moms. But they didn’t cry.’
‘Well, it’s okay if they cry. It can be hard being away from their moms, even if they’re having a lot of fun. It’s a big change starting school, you know,’ I said.
I saw your face relax, and you turned to me.
‘Mama, I was so brave today. I was at school all by myself and I didn’t cry.’
‘Yup, you were really brave. I know it’s not always easy saying goodbye to me in the morning,’ I touched your hand lightly. ‘Do you feel like you need to cry right now? Because if you do, that’s okay.’
‘No,’ you answered quickly, your face breaking into that grin again.
Maybe it was enough for you, realizing I knew how brave you were being. Maybe it was enough I told you it was okay to feel like you need to stop being strong for a minute, you could always cry with me.
I see how much you love going to preschool in the morning. I hear the adoration in your voice when you tell me about your teacher. I can tell how proud you are of all of the new things you’re learning.
But most of all, my dear girl, I see how much you’re pushing yourself to rise up to something that’s new, and wonderful, and exciting, but also hard, and a little scary sometimes.
So, I hope you know being brave doesn’t just look like confident smiles and clear, loud voices. Being brave can also look like a quivering lip, a shaky stammer, and sometimes, being brave looks like needing to cry. And that’s okay.”
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