Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

The first nudge toward the edge of the nest

A couple of weeks ago I accompanied Leta to her kindergarten orientation where we met with her teachers and explored the various areas and features of her classroom, and y’all, there is a princess castle! IN HER ROOM! I mean, it’s not an Official Princess Castle brought to you by Hasbro or Disney or whatever, it’s just a set of wooden steps leading up to a balcony of sorts, but she didn’t know the difference and thought we were taking a tour of Heaven.

It is a magnificent kindergarten classroom, as far as kindergarten classrooms go, with tons of colorful letters and numbers on the wall, and blocks and games AND BOOKS! DON’T FORGET THE BOOKS! Mom, there is a whole box of chapter books, I just love chapter books, that’s what she kept repeating to me for three days straight, and when she’d go to open her mouth at any point during those three days I’d hold my index finger to her mouth and go LET ME GUESS! CHAPTER BOOKS! NOTED!

And then she’d gingerly remove my finger and go BUT I LOVE THEM!

I sat down with one of her teachers for a good half hour to go over classroom policies, and when the topic of lunch came up, I’ll just go ahead and be honest, I tried to change the subject. Because maybe once or twice this past week I have walked outside onto the deck in our backyard, far enough away from everything so that no one could hear me and yelled OH MY GOD I DIDN’T THINK I’D EVER LOSE THREE AND A HALF FUCKING YEARS OF MY LIFE TO HOW MANY FUCKING BITES OF THIS FUCKING BURRITO DOES SHE HAVE TO FUCKING EAT, but there they went.

A mother’s rant brought to you lovingly by three months of sleep deprivation.

I got really nervous because we once applied to a preschool before knowing that they had a really strict policy about lunch. Like, kids couldn’t pack anything processed in their lunches, and everything had to be fresh, don’t even think about sneaking in a fruit snack. Let’s just say we didn’t get our $50 application fee back.

So I’m looking around the room nervously, thinking oh no, oh no, please no, not the topic of food, and before I pass out from anxiety I just throw it out there, way out in the open, like unleashing a bull from its pen, I go LETA IS A REALLY PICKY EATER. With enough emphasis to communicate that she would rather starve herself to death before eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Because bread is just the grossest thing ever, you can quote her on that.

And her teacher, without skipping a beat, she waves her hand in the air and says, “Oh, they all are.” And then she moved on to something else. Like, no big deal, we see it all the time. I wanted to start bawling from the relief, it felt exactly like every appointment we’ve had with her pediatrician who starts by taking a cursory glance at Leta, and then he turns to me and Jon and says, “Are you okay?” Like he genuinely wants to make sure we aren’t four seconds away from falling over dead.

Drop off on the first day was as difficult as I thought it would be, she clung to my arm as if she were drowning, and even though I stayed for a good twenty-five minutes and watched her climb the princess castle seven hundred times, when it was time for me to leave she was frantic. And I knew exactly how she felt, I remember the panic I experienced when my mother left me in that strange room all those years ago, but I finally knelt down and took the hand I had just used to wipe the tears from my face to wipe the ones on hers. And I handed her off to the teacher.

I lingered outside her room for just a bit and looked in to make sure that she settled in okay, and within seconds she was sitting calmly with the other kids on the colored mat in the middle of the room, a sea of little heads starting the next chapter in their lives.

First day of kindergarten

When I picked her up that afternoon she ran to me, my little girl who we once thought might never walk, and wrapped her arms around my neck so ferociously that I couldn’t breathe. And when she finally released her embrace she said, “Mom, can I tell you a secret?” And then in her trademark yell/whisper she grabbed my ear and screamed I LOVE MY SCHOOL AND I PLAYED ON THE COMPUTERS AND THE PRINCESS CASTLE AND I JUST LOVE IT SO MUCH! And then as we held hands and walked to the car she talked about the lunch room and the big tables and the playground and her friend with the yellow hair and the other one with the brown hair but it was much shorter than hers, and IT’S OKAY TO TAKE A BREATH, LETA.

It felt like a Volkswagon commercial, here I am this disheveled suburban mom buckling in her kid who WILL NOT STOP TALKING, and it’s adorable, yes, but then all the words start to blend together, and the dialogue did not stop as I closed her door and walked around to the front of the car, I could still see her lips moving.

When I opened my door and climbed in it was still going on, the paragraphs and paragraphs of kindergarten awesomeness filled every available inch of space in the car. And I sat there for a second looking at her in the rearview mirror and thought, we just did it. We just lived that day together, she and I, we just took that monumental next step forward, and I’m so glad that I got to do it with her. And years from now when we’ve met for dinner and a glass of wine, we’ll talk about this day specifically. And I won’t even bring up the burritos.

  • Tears! And I don’t even have a kid. Not one. Not even a dog. =) So happy for you both.

  • Anonymous

    OMG, Dooce! We all know YOU ARE SO TOTALLY GOING TO BRING UP THE BURRITOS!

    😉

  • “a sea of little heads starting the next chapter in their lives.”

    This line made me tear up just a little bit. My baby just started a new chapter in his life too: he’s a freshman in college this fall. It’s tough, isn’t it? They grow up so fast. It may be cliche, but it’s true.

  • What a big milestone for Leta! Congratulations to her! (And to you for surviving. I’ll hand out another one if you really manage to not bring up the burritos. Because I totally would.)

  • Nina

    I think this will make you laugh, truly. For all the times you’ve made me laugh…

    http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/09/14/090914sh_shouts_frazier

  • Perpetually Lurking

    I am not a person who comments on websites, but I’d just like to say, finally, that you are the only person who can make me even *think* about *someday* *maybe* having children.

    Your particular way of presenting the world has brought me a lot of joy and laughter over the past few years, and today is no exception.

  • Leslie

    Oh, she is SO GORGEOUS. I am so happy that the day went so well – I can only imagine the anxiety for everyone – and hope it is the start of a wonderful new chapter in your lives.

    And yes, Leta, chapter books ARE awesome. I’ll be she would LOVE A Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett 🙂

  • Heh. Sounds a lot like my son, who’s ten now and still doesn’t ever have a thought that isn’t immediately verbalized.

    Oh, and the picky eating does get better. My son didn’t eat anything but chicken nuggets for about a year, and my stepdaughter wasn’t much better. A few years ago we started a new set of dinnertime rules:

    1. You must eat at least one bite of everything on your plate.
    2. You must eat at least as many bites as you are years old (i.e., 8 years old = 8 bites of dinner, with those 8 bites consisting of at least one bite of each item on your plate)
    3. A single pea is not a bite. A small forkful or spoonful of food is a bite.
    4. No making faces or saying how gross it is.
    5. Once you are done with your [years of age] bites, you have the option to get yourself something else to eat if you can’t stand what we’re having and you are still hungry. But it has to be something you can get yourself (i.e., bowl of cereal, peanut butter sandwich, toaster waffle, whatever). Mom is not a short-order cook and will not make you something special for dinner.

    Amazingly, this works really well. The kids know exactly what the rules are, we don’t have to argue about how many bites they must eat, and they usually find if they eat a few bites of something it’s not really as bad as they’d convinced themselves it was at first. 🙂 The kids are starting to branch out and eat all kinds of new things (salsa! shrimp! wasabi! couscous!).

  • Love love love this story!

  • Sarah H

    Love the image of the car commercial, but just to give credit where credit is due it’s a Volvo commercial. Not that I have anything against Volkswagens…well, maybe I do.

  • Aw, that post brought tears to my eyes 🙂 My little girl just started grade two, so the memories of her first day of Kindergarten are still fresh: happy and exciting, yet heart wrenching at the same time. I remember leaving her at the school and walking home with her younger brother, and feeling like I was missing a part of myself. No doubt about it, it’s a huge milestone and very poignant memory.

  • That’s so awesome that she LOVED her first day! Isn’t it just great when you see your own child start to spread their wings? When they start school, their world expands and amazingly they have even MORE to tell us about.

  • Excellent Post!

  • What a beautiful piece of writing.
    And let me tell you something- You WILL bring up the burritos. I promise. And it will be funny.

  • It’s so nice that Leta likes her school it makes it so much easier!

    I can remember taking my first one to Kindergarten, Grade School, Middle School and when she graduated High School. Then she went onto college and now she is doing her internships/rotations – don’t know what I’ll do when she graduates in May!

  • gina

    Oh just wait until she comes home talking about how stupid boys are … now that is hilarious !

    http://a-slapintheface.blogspot.com/

  • Nhiro

    Shit, I’m 21 and I still remember my first day of school. I was INCONSOLABLE. Props to Leta, she’s a champ.

    And she looks killer in that outfit. (:

  • Those are awesome shoes, Leta! My four year old wants to know if you will please tell us where you found them. =)

  • Way back in another life when I was a nanny, I used to tell the parents to please just get the hell out the door when their toddlers were screaming their heads off at the thought of their mommy leaving.

    It was so much easier when the mommy had gone. There was a 30 second turn around time, and then the kid and I would have a blast.

    That knowledge did NOTHING for me when it was MY kid being left at pre-school for the first time. We eventually both adjusted. She loves being at school now – AND BY GOD I LOVE HER BEING AT SCHOOL TOO! But boy do I cherish the pick up time.

  • you didn’t say one thing about the best part of it all…

    the glorious hours of silence that happened in between…

    that’s the best part. i know, because my youngest just started kindergarten. as he peeked curiously over the edge of the nest, i shoved him…and threw down his lunch box, and his backpack after him.

    just the difference between the first born and the baby!!

  • You people and your fricking kindergarten aged children. Stop already. I don’t have to cry these tears for 4 more years yet. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it then, if I can’t hardly handle thinking about it now.

    Between these first day of kindergarten posts I’ve been reading, and the end of Finding Nemo where Marlin says “Good-bye son” and the stingray teacher carries his kid off into the blue, I’m getting dehydrated from all the crying. Motherhood should come with a free 12 pack of spring water per week. And Finding Nemo should come with a warning.

  • bittybambu

    Thank you for sharing this. I just went through this experience for the first time with my oldest son recently too. It’s such a huge transition to go through, and so full of emotions from all of us. You’ve articulated the experience so well; so similar to my own (just WAY better put).

  • Rose

    My Leta is Rachel and she’s 23…I have nostalgic tears in my eyes and SHIT! I have to get back to work! Thank you for such a tender post today Heather.

  • Katie K

    Argh you’ve got me crying at work woman!

  • For a second, I thought you put Jon in a pigtails and skirt. Could that kid look ANY MORE like him? (Marlo, on the other hand, looks a lot like her mama!) My son starts kindergarten next year (sigh). I’m SO not looking forward to this. Congrats to Leta (and you!) for making it through her first day 🙂

  • My daughter was the same way in Kindergarten . . . and still is today in 6th grade! Although I have been known to mutter PLEASE! STOP! TALKING! on occasion, I am grateful for the abundance of BEST-DAY-EVER!s she’s shared with me over the years. It’s going to be a great year for Leta!

  • Alexandra

    I guess because I’m about to give birth any minute, my hormones are raging. There’s a small ocean of tears on my desk and in my lap. So touching! I’m glad I still have a few years before my first head off to the big K. I’m dreading it.

  • Brii

    You are the kind of mother I dream to become some day. 🙂

  • Katie Kat

    Heather, you give me hope that I can get through that day too! B is at least a year (or 2) away from Kindergarten, and I’m already dreading letting her little hand go on that first day. I’m so glad Leta loved it – what an adventure you both are on!

  • Long time reader here, just wanted to say well done. For everything. From all the worries about Leta you got through to this point.

    I don’t mean to be condescending (I don’t have kids) but you rock. I mean not as much as Leta rocks but you get my point… 🙂

    What a great mother you are, truly. What a lovely moment, it’s been fun ‘watching’ Leta grow up, thank you for sharing all of it (yes even the bits I really don’t wanna read, hey I’m a guy, that stuff is… icky).

    Thank you.

  • This is so cute. My own precious, beloved niece Kiva (also obsessed with princess castles and chapter books) just started kindergarten herself, and when my mother-in-law, her Grammie, picked her up after the first day, she asked her how it went. Kiva’s face went all serious, and she turned to her like a grown-up and said, “Just awesome.” That tugged at my heartstrings!

  • Did you cry writing those last few lines, because I totally cried who reading them…

    I just had a similar experience with my 5-year-old. The drop off was not one of our finer moments.

    http://scriptedbynatalie.vox.com/library/photo/6a00fad691b6e1000501101690284b860c.html

    She ended up having a great day, just like Leta. I’m so proud of them both!

  • OMG, look at Leta working it in that picture! That is the greatest picture… I love it!

    Oh, and ya made me cry. Thanks. Sheesh.

    [Memories!]

  • Awww I love this post, and I love your blog!! Just thought I’d tell you 🙂 I used to be super anti-kids when I was in high school, but now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely changed. I won’t have kids for awhile, but I can live vicariously through you! Being able to read about all the small, family anecdotes that makes life wonderful keeps me excited for my somewhat far-off future of poopy diapers. You’re awesome Heather!

  • Jon_and_Kate_Plus_Dooce

    Yes it’s me again. I just have no life and no friends so I need to come here all the time and hate on you because I’m so jealous. I really, really want what you have. I’m so jealous.

  • schmei

    This brought back a lot of memories of my kindergarten year. My mom would take off Wednesday afternoons and walk me home from school so we could spend a few hours together, just the two of us. She was so good at acting intensely interested in my stories of the adventures of that year, and she would prepare my graham cracker snack PRECISELY CORRECT (I think Leta’s teacher is right).

    I’m now 27 and live 350 miles away, and she still calls me every Wednesday. Good moms rock.

  • My daughters are both going to kindergarten this year. One will be in senior kindergarten and the other daughter will be in junior kindergarten. It will just be me and my son on Tuesday, Thursday and every other Friday. I don’t even know what I will do with my time!

    Very exciting. By the way, the photo of Leta is ADORABLE! I love her pose. Very chic!

    Tricia

  • Love the bright pink Keens! So did she take a bowl of refried beans and a bag of M&M’s for lunch or what?

    Oh lovely, my Captcha words are harry horre – what the HECK?!

  • Lisa T.

    My boy, Matt, is ten years old now and I’ll never forget his first day of kindergarten. He was and is slow to adapt to new situations (as is his mother), but is very stoic about the whole thing…which is almost more heartbreaking than if he were one to weep and cling.

    When I left him there that day my face ACHED from smiling and putting on a brave front for him. I was so frozen I couldn’t even cry once I got home. No, I had to go straight to work (*my* first day of working at my job during normal business hours rather than slinking in during the evenings and weekends while the husband was home). My coworkers examined me and wanted to talk to me about this milestone my son and I had achieved, but I could only say short, cheerful things and then quickly answer the ever-ringing phone. I COULD NOT go there.

    At the end of the school day I left work, drove to Matt’s school and walked into his classroom to see the afternoon going-home ritual. I can’t say Matt looked thrilled to be there, but just to see him doing the normal kindergarten stuff…I fled the classroom and burst into tears out in the hallway. A kindly first-grader mom acquaintance of mine came across me and let me cry it out on her shoulder saying comforting words and with that I was able to pull myself together. It was just SO HARD being away from him for so long and I was so incredibly relieved to see him again.

    It probably took me a couple of weeks before I wasn’t all choked up in the afternoons.

  • Beautiful! It’s so nice when we can recognize those moments and take them in, even if it’s just for a second and you’ve got your new kindergartner chattering away in the background. Good for you and for Leta.

    I’m off to go research which kindergartens in my area have princess castles – my oldest starts next year.

  • I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry! Congrats to both of you!! My daughter is almost one and I am already dreading the first day of school because I know I’ll miss her and it means I get to go back to work. Boo! I can’t believe my itty bitty baby who was so so small when I had her started walking last night, they grow up way to fast.

  • Yay for you and Leta! I’m totally jealous – my son just started kindergarten, too, and every day I ask, “What did you do today?” And every day I get the answer, “I don’t remember.”

  • Melissa S

    “…but I finally knelt down and took the hand I had just used to wipe the tears from my face to wipe the ones on hers.”

    Wow! This line got me. You are such an amazing writer.

    Oh, and #41 can go fuck themselves…

  • Nat

    Way to go and make me cry first thing in the morning.

    And I don’t even have kids yet.

  • Seems like just yesterday I had a kindergartener, but now he’s in third grade. Looking forward to kinder next year for my youngest. It may be the best year in school

  • Darci

    That backward glance will get you every time…I moved my daughter from Los Angeles to Rochester, NY for college and as I watched her walk away from me and her father into that dorm, she glanced over her shoulder and I would have grabbed her and run if she asked. She just waved and kept walking…

    Oh I miss her but so proud that she was able to go over that edge of the nest.

  • Ryann

    The most beautiful thing you’ve written, “I finally knelt down and took the hand I had just used to wipe the tears from my face to wipe the ones on hers.” My little girl went off to Kinder a few weeks ago…. This perfectly describes it!

  • Leanie

    My third and final child started Kindergarten this year and it was the hardest of all three. It’s so exciting and hard at the same time! Speaking of lunch…..it could go the other way you know. My middle child? We had to cancel his lunch account because on the days he wasn’t going through twice he was going through, getting food, and trading it for favors from other kids. First grade favors, mind you, like Play Kickball with me tomorrow for this apple, but he had a regular racket going. He’s now only allowed to pack lunch until he can buy lunch responsibly.

  • Kristy

    Oh, I just love her little fancy-pants pose in that picture! Like, hey world, look at me and my CUTE SKIRT!

  • Candice

    Such a wonderful post for such a momentous occasion! We sent our little boy off to first grade this year, so my moment was last year although this year was easier and harder all at the same time. Thanks for sharing this, I loved reading it.

    Oh, and side note…Leta’s sneakers…LOVE them…who makes them, thinking they would look just as cute on my little girl.