The toothless smile and the paper bead necklace she made so proudly this weekend, the brand new outfit and cool new shoes with pink heart shoelaces, the hair fixed just so - it's an image of a seven year old excited about the first day of second grade.
But I've been there. I know.
I know that feeling in the pit of her stomach that makes her unsure of what lies ahead on this new day. I know the nervousness she feels about the teacher she's just met -- who could be nice, but maybe isn't. I know the thoughts she is having about which familiar faces she will see in her classroom, and which ones will be brand new. I know the first day of school can feel like the worst day ever.
As we entered her classroom this morning, she became silent. Instantly unsure of her own voice in this new environment, I felt that familiar pang in my own stomach. As I hugged and kissed her goodbye, I reminded her that I would pick her up early from school today so we could make it to her new dance class on time, and that scored me a little sparkle from her eye. But as I walked away and stood at the doorway watching the class recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I could see the slight downturn of her mouth and the downward gaze she held.
I knew if I stayed any longer, she would cry. And so would I.
So when I caught her eye I gave her a quick thumbs up and a big smile, and off I went down the second grade hallway, unsure myself of which way to turn to find the exit. In that moment I was not the 38 year old leaving my child at school, but the scared third grader in a big new school who had no idea where to go. I was the nervous fourth grader in a room full of new faces, in a new state, still not sure of how I fit into this well established picture. I was the self-conscious eighth grader not knowing who was safe to talk to or who would make fun of everything I said.
As I found my way to the front door of the school, I felt the weight of my former worry and wanted to go back to her classroom to rescue her from those awful feelings. But alas, I know better. I know she will make it through the day with more highlights than lowlights. I know she will greet me with a smile and not tears when I pick her up today. I know she will share the exciting things she's learned she gets to do as a second grader that she could not do in first grade.
I know she will be OK.
But the feeling in the pit of my stomach remains.
And so does the tissue in my hand. Just in case.