You started preschool this week. Which is weird because I feel like I just found out I was pregnant with you like a month ago. I don’t know what your vision of preschool has been, but it’s one of only two consistent things you have asked for over the past year. (The other being a pony tail. I’m sorry, sweetie. If I could make your hair grow any faster, I would. But that gift is just coming slowly, which I think is a gift to me. I need to learn how to do hair before you have enough to do.)
I didn’t realize just how excited you were until I walked in to your bedroom on Thursday morning and found your eyes sparkling while saying, “It’s school day, isn’t it mommy?!?!” You got your excitement shakes out and then headed to spend some quality time with your scrambled eggs and Daniel Tiger while I finished getting myself ready. We got you dressed in your first “first day of school” outfit and you practiced putting your backpack on about 15 times. Once it was just right and we had snapped a bunch of pictures to send to Daddy, you looked up and asked, “Can we read just one more book before we go?” And that’s when I started the game of trying to hide the tears in my eyes from you.
“Oh, Norah. Of course we can read just one more book. I’m so glad you asked”, I said. But inside I climbed aboard the hope train. I do this sometimes. I start making this list of all the things I hope for you. And I hope that your love for books grows as you grow. That you find the stories that make you cry and laugh and change the way you think. I hope you have teachers that know it’s more important to instill a love for reading and the skill to talk about those books you love than it is to finish a certain number of books in a certain amount of time and answer all the right questions on the follow up test.
We finished the book and then it was time to go. I picked you up to get you bundled up in the stroller for the 15 minute walk to school. But I couldn’t just put you down. This was the first time we were getting ready to go out together to different places. When we come back home we will not have just experienced the same thing. And that’s when I realized why all the moms who cry on the first day of school cry, and I apologized silently for having judged them as they dropped their happy children off to my classroom door. “Can I pray for you before I put you in the stroller today?”, I asked. “Okay, Mom!”, you chirped. And we got back on that hope train together. I prayed my hopes aloud for you. I prayed that God would give you strength and courage at school. I prayed that you would have a kind and patient heart. I prayed that you would find joy in learning and meeting new friends. I prayed that you would have compassion for the kid who was having a hard day, and that you would be met with compassion on your hard days too. I prayed that God would calm any nerves you felt. I prayed that making new friends would continue to come easy to you. I prayed that you would know you are loved deeply and that we would feel close even while we are apart.
Once you were finally in the stroller, you started your typical stroller chat. You complimented everyone in the elevator on their coat or hat and asked them where they were going. You said good-bye to Paul, our door man, and happily told him it was finally your first day of school. You waved to the people on their way to work and asked why they were walking so fast. You asked a lot of questions, until all of a sudden you didn’t. About half way to school you got really quiet. So I asked you a question. “How are you feeling about school Norah?” After a moment you answered in a voice quieter than usual, “Curious”. Next stop on the hope train. Oh how I hope that curiosity never leaves you. I hope you find the balance of voicing your questions to seek answers and letting your questions simmer so you can find the answers yourself. I hope school always makes you curious. I hope I have the patience to answer all of your questions – even the ones that have been asked many, many times before.
When we arrived at school you quickly introduced yourself to a new friend in the lobby. She was a little shy, so you gave her a smile and then some space. We walked down to your classroom and you waited outside the door for your teachers to crack it open. A few more new friends arrived while we waited. When one familiar face walked around the corner you gave a little squeal and ran over to hug that sweet girl you had only just met the week before. Once your teachers opened the doors you all entered the brightly colored room together. You made a beeline for the baby dolls and then I helped you find your cubby. It wasn’t hard to leave you, Norah. You were so happy and comfortable in that space with your new friends. I was reminded what my mommy told me once – that it’s hard to be sad when you see your daughter so happy. So I hopped back on that hope train and walked out the door, hoping that these budding friendship would grow quickly.
I left you to learn and went to a coffee shop so I could do some learning too, but it felt like the hope train was barreling along and I couldn’t keep up. My head was swirling with hopes for your character, for your future, for the people you would choose (or not) to be surrounded with, for your faith, for your education, for your joy. I finally had to pull the lever and make the train screech to a halt. There’s nothing wrong with being on the hope train, Norah. I think it’s good to have hopes for yourself and for the people you love. But I don’t want my hopes for you to become a burden. And once I was off of that train, I realized how many of these hopes I have for you are things you already are.
The day before preschool started you asked me if you could give the whole world a hug. It was in reference to the large sculpture of the Earth that sits at the north end of Columbus Circle, and you did in fact hug the whole world that day when you stood on your tiptoes and wrapped your small arms as wide as possible around that sculpture. I know there’s cliché in thinking that the whole world could use a hug. But it reminded me that you already have a heart of compassion. When I’m on the hope train, I pray every day that as you grow your heart will break for those that could use a hug and that you use the gift of mercy that you already have to change this world just a bit. But here’s the thing Norah. You already are changing the world, and I don’t want to miss who you already are when I’m dreaming of who you’ll become.
So as you start preschool and my mind has more time to wander, I’m going to do my best to balance my time on the hope train with more time on the thankful train.
I’m so thankful for your compassionate and merciful heart. I’m thankful that you make friends easily and treat them kindly. I’m thankful that you’re curious about this world and the people in it. I’m thankful that you can spend an entire afternoon reading books. I’m thankful that you’re eager to try new things and when you make a mistake say, “It’s okay, I’m still learning.”
I guess I’m really just thankful you’re mine. But you’re not defined by that. You are more than just mine. My hopes for you might not be the same ones you have for yourself. So I’m going to do my best as you continue on through these school days to just know you and what you hope for. I want to support you in your hopes and dreams. I will never stop hoping for you and praying for you, because I think things like bravery, strength, kindness, and compassion are good hopes to have for a daughter. But I will try not to let the noise of my hope train drown out the noise of yours or barrel past the hopes that have already been fulfilled in you.
After three hours at the coffee shop, I walked back to pick you up from your first day of preschool. You were just as happy as you were when I dropped you off. I asked you what your favorite part was and you told me it was painting. “Was there anything you didn’t like?”, I asked. After thinking for a minute, you answered, “No, I liked aaaaallll the things.” I saw the hope train stop and open it’s door, waiting for me to get on. I could have climbed aboard and started hoping that you would always like all the things about school. And that you would find that one thing that you really love and it would spark joy in you. But I let the door close and the train roll on without me. “I’m so glad you had a good day, Norah. Tell me more about it.” I’ll catch that hope train again another time. But for now, I’m just going to be thankful that you’re the girl I get to pick up from school.
I love you, Norah. Always and forever and no matter what.