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bumpToday was Toddler's first official day of school. We are phasing in and it was only forty-five minutes and there were only five kids, but still. It was her first day. And everything went smoothly. Too smoothly. I want my baby back. She woke up this morning very excited, almost bouncing. The immediate intake of chocolate milk enhanced her natural ebullience. Her happiness was seemingly contagious. Baby was all smiles and giggles. Husband and I were in fabulous moods as well. Together, we watched TV and sang silly songs and ate breakfast hot dog (a.k.a. chicken sausage).

I got Toddler dressed. And maybe I should have made a big to-do and bought a new dress and fabulously floppy bow, but I was remarkably nonchalant about wardrobe. I put her in a faded pink tunic and purple leggings and spiced it up a bit with an animal print barrette. Cool, but not overboard.

Per her teachers' request, we packed an extra change of clothes that she would keep in her cubby. She decided that we should use her Dora bag for these items. I obliged her, not quite thinking.

Before leaving the house, Toddler insisted on wearing her new red Mickey Mouse shades and because it was a sunny morning and her big day, I obliged. She looked up at Husband and me with those red glasses and mussed hair and pouty supermodel lips and said, "Come on, guys. Let's go." And, at this, I smiled proudly. But then something hit me. At age two, she might already be cooler than I am. Too cool for school.

Outside, we made it a few yards before Toddler asked Daddy to carry her. And Husband obliged. And because every little thing on these milestone days seems somehow poetic, I hung back and snapped a few shots. Above, you will see Husband lugging his girl to the corner. A sweet and snuggly pic, but nothing out of the ordinary. But then I looked a little closer and I saw it. The street sign in the upper left. A street sign I've walked by countless times in my life and never noticed. In case you can't quite make it out, it says: BUMP AHEAD.

Bump ahead.

skip

And then Toddler asked to get down. And, again, Husband obliged and took the opportunity to check his BlackBerry since he was technically missing a meeting. And Toddler, happy Toddler, took off skipping down the sidewalk, arms flailing, leaving a screech or two in her wake. And this skipping, this screeching, confirmed something: she's ready. She's ready for this day.

And behind my camera, I smiled. She's ready.

drag

She turned and saw me trailing behind, carrying that Dora bag and said, "Mom, I want to carry my Dora bag like a big girl." So I obliged. I handed her the bag and the straps are bizarrely long, too long for a creature her size, but she dragged it along.

At the corner, she said to Husband, "Daddy, this is how you get a taxi" and like the little city kid she is, like the spawn of a spoiled but marvelous mother, she threw her arm up, splayed her tiny fingers and shouted, "TAXI!"

And, like magic, a taxi pulled up an instant later. "I did it!" she proclaimed proudly as we piled in. We traveled North and minutes later pulled up outside her school. "We're here! We're here!" she shouted. She's ready, I thought.

On the sidewalk once more, she clutched her Dora bag and picked up speed, running straight for... CVS. We righted her and walked into school. Up the stairs. She skipped down the hallway to her classroom. Husband and I waited outside for that rainbow door to open. For it all to begin. We chatted with other parents as our kids chatted animatedly with each other. The nerves built slowly as time ticked by and when the door opened, we all headed in. Toddler helped me put the Dora bag in her little cubby and then was off. Playing. Husband kissed Toddler goodbye and headed to work. I lingered, watching my big girl wander her new little world. Until. Until the teacher told me to wait outside.

That rainbow door closed. And that was it. There I was, in a long hallway with four other moms. On the other side. We stood there chatting, trading vital statistics, laughing that nervous laughter, waiting for the sound of tears to slide under that friendly door and find us and make us feel needed. But there were no tears. Just the occasional aria of youthful laughter. So we kept talking.

Forty-five minutes later, that door opened once more and one by one, we mothers filed in. We hovered in the back of the small classroom waiting. Toddler saw me, flashed the day's biggest smile, and bounced toward me. I picked her up and twirled her around and kissed her cheeks over and over and whispered something in her tiny ear, "I'm so proud of you." Because I was. I am.

And then it was time to go. Toddler made the rounds, saying goodbye to each of her four teachers. I took her hand to leave, but she wouldn't go. She wanted her Dora bag. I explained that we needed to leave it at school, but her face crumpled and the tears were just waiting to spring. In her ear, I whispered something, "Mommy will buy you a brand new bag!" A mischievous, manipulative smile returned and we made it out of her classroom.

Back on the street, we celebrated some more. I picked her up, suffocating her with kisses. And then she told me she had to pee. So we walked across the street to the pizza joint where she went potty and I bought an overpriced bottle of water because she went potty and a nice man called her princess and made her a rose out of tinfoil. I asked if she wanted a slice of pizza which she didn't, but she did want candy. And because that's what she gets when she uses the potty and because it was her day, I obliged. Off to the bodega on the corner to buy some sour patch cherries.

And because I didn't want this moment to end, I took her for a celebratory breakfast at our favorite diner EJ's. Toddler had macaroni and cheese and chocolate milk and I had eggs. We sat there, in the sun-blanched booth, eating and laughing and reliving the day. I asked her what she did at school and she said, "Mom, I don't know. Played." Too cool indeed. I asked her who her friends were, and she said, "Mom, all of them. Everybody." And I decided this was a wonderful answer. As I ate, she chided me. "Mom, that bite was too big. Smaller bites, Mom." And because it was her day and because she is cooler than I am, I obliged. "Okay, babe," I said and took a tiny, Toddler-sized bite.

A few noodles into her repast, she had a change of heart. "I want ice cream," she said. "With sprinkles." I told her that if she ate some more mac, I would think about it. And at this, she said, "No. I want ice cream. With sprinkles. Please, Mom." You know where this is heading.

dieg

"Okay, we'll stop for ice cream on the way home," I said, paying the bill. And then she reminded me. Because she never forgets. "I need a new bag!" she said. "Because I had to leave my Dora bag at school and I'm soooooo sad." Oh my.

{So. This is getting long, but bear with me. Wait, no. I will not apologize for this indulgent, wandering post. If she were yours, you too would want to document the details so you could come back and devour them later. At a time when you weren't in denial and shock, at a time when your vision wasn't blurry from some combination of pride and longing and love. You too would want to capture the patchwork of silly and serious. The exquisite swirl of smell and sound and story. You too would want to remember the embarrassingly-effective manipulation, the loving, but desperately imperfect mothering moments, the first-day garb and the tinfoil rose and the school girl giggles. You would. And, if not, just skim this. I'll never know.}

We went to the little toy store across the street and she picked a Diego backpack that is almost as big as she is. And, proudly, victoriously, she wore this new bag to the ice cream store where she enjoyed chocolate and vanilla with rainbow sprinkles. And then we finally went home.

When Toddler walked into our apartment, a big girl in Mickey shades and a Diego backpack, Baby beamed and clapped. Toddler, high on sugar and high on school, buzzed around, telling bits and pieces of stories about her first day. Smiling the whole time.

And I sat back. And in my head, I reprimanded myself for the candy and the unnecessary new bag and the ice cream. In my head, I told myself that I will do better. But then. I listened to her ramble on about her good morning and watched her jump and twirl around. And, suddenly, miraculously, I had a different thought. I am trying. I am doing just fine. She is happy and healthy. And cool! And oh so ready for what lies ahead. But am I?

And then I turned and looked at Baby, still in diapers, still all cheeks, still baldish, and desperate for an infant nuzzle, I scooped her up. I swallowed her in a hug. But Baby wiggled and whined. She wanted to get down. So I obliged. I put her down. She stood there, looking up at me. And then she did something cruel and amazing and so very untimely.

She took her very first steps.

Two or three. And ended up in my arms once more. And this confirmed it: I am not ready for any of this.

As well as this morning went, I think that street sign had it right. Bump Ahead. Because I am a rookie at this game, but it seems that parenthood is a long and winding and endlessly rewarding road with deceptively smooth stretches. But the bumps are there. Behind us. Ahead of us. Underfoot. Everywhere. Waiting to trip us. Keeping us honest. Humble. Aware.

I love you, Toddler. I might not be ready, but I'm insanely proud.

_____________________

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