We began walking fifteen minutes before the bell. It didn't seem that far, but with a four year old watching the sky for birds, playing with her unicorn bag, and skipping here and there, it is farther than fifteen minutes. It is like incredi-minutes--stretched out and impossibly short, intangible and ordinary. We pass our friend's house. She points it out. And then the big road that makes us hold hands and run/walk, like no one will stop for a little girl, her mommy and a baby in a stroller. We walk down the high school steps to cut across the football field.
It won't be long before she is walking to high school on her own. Banish the thought. Live in the moment. That is ten years from now.But still, ten years ago for me feels like yesterday. I was twenty-seven and working a corporate job and never imagining a blonde girl and her dark-haired brother on the way to the first day of school.
There is a huge hawk sitting on a fence about six feet from us. The high school mascot is a hawk. Is it the high school's hawk? Will I look foolish asking? Is it supposed to be there? He looks at us and turns back to the soccer field. His feathered claws grasp the fence top. He is hunting. He is waiting. He is just chillin'.
I am perched over my daughter, grasping at her childhood. She is her own bird. I ask her for the fifteenth time if she is excited. I don't know what to say anymore. Are you afraid? Are you excited? Do you remember our address? Are you nervous? Will you miss us? Have you outgrown us? Do you know not to talk to strangers, except for everyone in your classroom? I mean, don't talk to bad people. Are you thinking about bullies or just new friends? Will school be fun? What do you think of this huge occasion, the start of the rest of your life?
Are you excited to start school?
Yeah, I'm excited.
Are you sick of me asking that question?
No. I like that question.
The baby kicks his leg out. His chubby leg and foot stuffed into a little blue shoe. He is still awake he is telling me and his shoe is still on."Hi, baby boy. It is soon going to be just you and me." Beezus skips, and I look at my watch. We need to run, children, or we are going to be late for school.So we run the last quarter mile. Through the muddy field, up the steps, around corners in neighborhoods I don't know. I think this is the way, I mutter only to myself. It is muggy and warm and overcast, so our hair is sweaty and wet. I am wearing jeans. (It made sense when I left.) I don't want her to be late on the first day. I don't want her to be the kid that is always late. I don't know exactly how far the school is, or where I am going. This is my first time too. And we see it, finally, the little things. The little playground. The little benches. The little fences. The little bikes lined up. It is the first day of school, and everyone is wearing new clothes.
There is a line and she falls in place at the end. The bell rings and the teacher marches them in. I didn't kiss her. I didn't say good luck. I didn't tell her not to take wooden nickels. I wave, and she waves non-chalantly with her arm still at her side. Just her hand moves. I smile. It is like she is in high school, and I am a nuisance and embarrassment. Already. It is only pre-k. Then I catch this look. It is her brave look. The one she has when I turn out the lights and say I am leaving the room now. She is afraid and brave. She doesn't cry. She just tucks her lips in, and smiles.
I turn away. It is as though I just got there and threw her into the classroom. Like she is a book returned. And I can't believe it is just the two of us. Thor and me. The baby falls asleep on the walk home. I carry him in, still strapped to the stroller, and place him on the rug in the living room. I make a sandwich and iced coffee and walk to the office to write.
And I am alone. Just. Like. That.