A few nights ago, after the girls were in bed, Husband and I sat side-by-side on our sofa chatting about Toddler. Together, we studied her artwork that had piled up on our coffee table. We marveled at the fact that she had very excitedly brought home her very first library book. We celebrated the fact that she has adjusted so quickly, so seamlessly, to school life. And then Husband said something. Something so simple and painfully profound.
He said, "She has her own little world now. A world without us."
I looked at him, studying those bright blue eyes that he passed on to our big girl, and I nodded. And smiled. Because, in typical male fashion, he had boiled it all down. Those scraggly emotions I've been feeling over the past few months, that swell of pride and nostalgia and sadness and happiness? He offered a translation.
Her own little world.
Together, we sat there and imagined this little world. We asked each other questions. What do you think she's like while she's there? Do you think she's different? Do you think she is quiet or bold or a bit of both? Do you think she follows directions? Do you think she giggles and prances and rolls her big eyes like she does at home? We asked these questions, but we didn't have answers. Because those answers linger in a place we as parents can't visit.
Her own little world.
"I wish we could install a little camera in her classroom so we could see her and see what she does." I can't remember whether I said this or whether Husband did. It doesn't matter. What matter is that we sat there, two young parents, pinched with pride and battered by distance, craving a window into a world that is by definition not ours.
And last night we got that window. It was Curriculum Night at Preschool. Go ahead and call me a dork, but last night was fun. More than fun. First, we listened to wonderful presentations by Toddler's library, music, art, and computer teachers. It was fascinating to hear about what Toddler is learning. But, for me, the best part was the streaming slides - the stills of our children in the throes of nascent education and discovery. The tiny brows furrowed with concentration, the wry smiles, the paint splattered clothes, the young eyes shiny with wonder. There was one picture of kids at the library, sitting in a circle around the teacher, listening to a story.
And there she was. Toddler. Our big girl. She sat there, towards the back of the room near a teacher she loves. Her face was serious, her eyes, her big eyes, fierce and keenly focused. Seeing her there, on her own, in her own little world, calm, surrounded by peers, learning, I felt the tears rise. In that little face, I saw something I have not seen before. I saw me. In that lonely moment, that moment away from me and without us, she looked just like me. A little me. But not. A little her. More tears gathered. But I blinked them back. I did.
And then we parents trouped to our classrooms. Their classrooms. We walked into Toddler's room, that colorful room, brimming with art and color and life, full of tiny tables and tiny chairs. All of us walked in and studied the room that we too quickly leave at drop-off and pickup. We studied the art and the photos. We nibbled on cheese and crackers and chatted with each other and with Toddler's teachers. I made that video camera joke to another mother. Wouldn't it be great to have footage of our kids while they are here? And she smiled and nodded.
And then. Then something magical happened. We had circle time. For a few moments, we were let in. To this world.
We parents perched on those miniature chairs where our kids usually sit. We sang the songs our kids usually sing. The welcome song. The days of the week song. The weather song. And then we did an art project. We were told to decorate little paper dolls to bring home to our kids. We gathered around those little tables and got to work. Within minutes, our doll had pom-pom boots and blond yarn hair and a pasta bow. And I looked around at fellow parents and realized something. Without fail, we all did the same thing. Something we were not explicitly instructed to do. We made our dolls look like our kids. And this makes sense, doesn't it? Our kids are our worlds.
And then it was time to go. We gathered our dolls, wet with glue, and filed out of that little room. We said goodbye and thank you to the teachers who are so enthusiastically educating our little creatures. And then some of us parents walked down that hallway together, that hallway where our kids scamper and run and migrate in civilized lines. Together, we walked out into the balmy October air and walked to a bar to grab drinks. To socialize, to celebrate, to unwind, to come to terms with the sudden plurality of worlds. At the bar, in our own world, we drank wine and talked and laughed. We talked about Preschool and our kids. And other things.
For me, it was an amazing night. Because I realized many things. Important things. I realized that Toddler, my now big girl, my forever baby, has an actual curriculum. And her own world. Her very own world. A world which will only expand. And last night, I got that coveted peek into that world. I saw that picture of her at once alone and surrounded, in a fit of concentration, at the library. I sat in her tiny chair and sang her silly songs. I squeezed her glue. I used her scissors. And then I left and walked away and as I walked away, I realized something else.
I don't need that camera. I don't even want it. It's her world. All hers. And what a wonderful world it is.