I remember the first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday instead of nearly 5000 days ago. My little girl, dressed in her white polo and khaki skort with black mary janes and a backpack almost too big for her, stood rocking back and forth while holding tightly onto my hand. We listened intently as the principal introduced us to the new school year. Soon it was time to hug my first born goodbye and head off to spend the day at work wondering and worrying about her. She cried when I tried to leave her with her teacher. She had met with the teacher the week before and toured the school, so the environment was not foreign to her. I think the amount of children combined with me leaving her sparked the tantrum.
As I dropped her off at the last first day of public school this past fall, no one could have foreseen how this school year would end. The start of my daughter’s senior year in high school also marked the start of my son’s high school journey. Now, seven months in, that journey has been cut short by a pandemic that is wreaking havoc in the lives of all earthly inhabitants. Some will say, but it’s just school and not that important. Those people are also the ones who made it through their senior milestones without impending doom lingering in the air. People have even gone so far as to label the class of 2020 as selfish and lacking perspective. I say to those people with all do respect…shut up. These children have worked all 13 years of public school. They have read, studied, played, learned, and earned the right to all that a traditional senior year has to offer. Instead of going to senior ball, they will be sheltering in place. Instead of the last games of spring sports, they will play video games online with friends. Instead of ending their senior year with the sunset ceremony, they will watch the sun go down on this school year from behind their masks. Instead of dawning a cap and gown to receive their diploma, they will check the mailbox to see if it came. Grad nite festivities in the Magic Kingdom have been reduced to high fives from family online. They have every right to be angry, depressed, and disappointed.
Everyday for the past month, I have watched my senior try to adjust to the new normal. She laughs a lot and attempts to ignore the reality of her situation. I can’t blame her. I would too. I keep waiting for that inner five year old in her to squeeze my hand, hide behind my back and cry.
I know I want to cry when I think about missing out on graduation parties and ceremonies. I want to cry for the uneventful way her public school experience ended. I want to cry when I think about how special this time of life is and the way it was yanked away from her.
As you wait for the second pink line to form on the one test that will actually change your life, you begin to dream and wonder all the what ifs. What if it’s positive? What if it isn’t? What if it’s a boy? What if it’s a girl? What if it’s twins? The three minutes pass slowly at a quick pace. Congratulations! The second line is bright pink! You are pregnant! Yay!?!
Now what. You spend the next seven to nine months watching in awe as your body transforms to accommodate the growing life inside. You shop for clothes, diapers, strollers, and cribs. You have showers and parties with family and friends wishing you well. You read books on what to expect while expecting and how to cope with the first few years. You think, no problem, I’m ready, I got this. And you do, for a while.
You change diapers. You chase them when the walking starts. You cry at the first day of school. Years pass by and your little one grows and blossoms into a skillful, charismatic, navigator of the world. There are times when the two of you are inseparable and as you watch a movie on the couch with this wonderful little person that you made, you think that life can’t possibly get any better. In a few years, you learn that you were right, life was as good as it could possibly get.
Suddenly the unlucky number 13 descends on your household like a tornado on a sunny clear day and you are tossed into the disaster of being a parent of a teenage monster. Gone are the days of loving adoration for the tasty meals you make them or the selfless way you put their needs above yours. Never no more will you see the joy on their faces when you pick them up from school or have those deep car conversations on the way home. Their hellos will be replaced with a series of grunts and sighs. Getting details about their day will require pliers and a well placed stack of C-4.
No one tells you of these days when they suggest that having children is the greatest adventure you’ll ever have. When young parents think about the joys of parenthood, they think of the first steps, first words, and the first day of school. No one ever thinks about the first time they slam the door on you or the first time they roll their eyes and suck their teeth at you. You can be the best parent the universe has ever seen and still have teens fighting you as they try to figure out their place in the world. This doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong. Chances are, you’ve done everything right. You’ve given them the comfort and confidence to test their boundaries and discover who they are. Think of the teen years are part two of the exploration of the toddler years. They mean no harm or disrespect. They just have to figure out where and how they fit in. It’s annoying. But, as I have been blessed to observe first hand with my older nephews, this stage passes and on the other side, a butterfly emerges from that sticky cocoon of adolescence. Once the late teens and early twenties take hold, the rebellion eases and they start to value your existence once again. So, hold on, it gets better.
Surgical lights flooded the room casting shadows of two doctors, two nurses, and my husband. Flat on my back looking up toward the heavens, my heart prayed for her to be alright. The doctor relayed a play by play like a baseball game announcer on an am radio station. Medical personnel scattered to and fro following her orders. My husband held my left hand and squeezed it twice. He was smiling and nodding while his other hand caressed my face. A sharp metal on metal sound jerked my head away from facing him. A nurse had dropped something on a tray and hurried to roll some machine across the room.
“She’s out.” The doctor’s drone like emotionless voice said. My husband echoed her statement. With my breath held hostage in my lungs, I waited. At some point my mind started counting. One…two… twelve…thirty-four…fifty-eight,,,a loud cry from the corner and tears streamed down filling my ear. Before I knew it, the nurse brought a tiny yellow blanket bundle to me with a face the size of a small apple and coffee brown eyes refusing to blink looking at me. I smiled and said hi to the little one who had spent the last two months tap dancing on my bladder.
I knew from my second ultrasound that I was going to give birth to a girl. What that meant for me as a mother was never clear until I saw her small, fragile tiny face. She was born six weeks early and would no doubt have struggles as a result.
Growing up as a female in America is an obstacle course full of physical and emotional pitfalls. Girls are expected to dress, speak, and act a certain way. Girls get blamed for just about everything that happens to them. If a boy teases her, it’s her fault because the boy is just expressing that he likes her. If another girl teases, her, it’s her fault because the other girl is jealous of something about her. As she grows, she is told that if she dresses a certain way and gets attention, or eve assaulted, it’s because she wanted it. This poor girl is responsible for how she behaves and how everyone else around her behaves. Basically, being a girl is hard. How would I be able to guard, guide, and equip this little baby girl for the hostile world she is going to encounter?