The word kindergarten comes from the German, “Garden of Children,” based on German educator Friedrich Fröbel’s method of bringing forth fruit in children the way the right circumstances in nature- soil, temperature, etc, bring forth blossoms and fruits in plants and flowers. Maybe it’s because of the anglicized word we use, or because of the connotation I already have with the word (it’s one of those where the line is very blurred- is your relation to a word because of its raw sound or because of its known connotation), but it’s a child-like word. It sounds fanciful, and I have enjoyed saying, “I have a kindergartener.” I suppose all summer I’ll be trying to prolong it by saying, “She just finished kindergarten,” when asked what year of school she’s in. First grade is the beginning of the numbers, the beginning of twelve years of school that will now be referred to as such- by their number. It is the beginning of chronology and the end of imagination and timelessness- the way she oriented herself in a place with no time where it was up to me to remind her, “After we eat breakfast, we’re going to brush teeth” and “Let’s play with play dough a little bit, and then we’ll have snack.” Pleasant ways to measure time.
People are always throwing around the phrase, “It feels like yesterday,” but it really and truly does feel like yesterday was the day I walked her up for her first day. I’ve got to do better than that phrase. It feels like a yo-yo of one day- released all the way through 180 days and then back up- back in my hand. Not a solid progression, but a returning. I came back home and wrote that day, as I am doing now- because when emotions and sentimentality overwhelm me, words are the way I hang on. They are my footholds on this climb and often a blank page is the best listener and somehow even, comforter. They are not a way to release sentimentality, but rather to push that out of the way and uncover the truths hiding beneath it.
Because, you see, being an only parent (I much prefer this to “single mom” because I am just that- her only living parent), is tough for all of the practical reasons you would think it would be. There’s no one to help unload the groceries, or sit in the car with her while you run in and get something, or go pick up medicine at the pharmacy while you stay home with your feverish child. There is no one to let you sleep in just one Saturday morning, or make you a meal, or take her out to practice riding her bike while you look on and take pictures. Oh, and you are not in any pictures. There is no one to help you assemble the furniture with the stick figures depicting that this will require two people. No one to share the financial burden of providing for piano lessons and swimming lessons and ballet.
But these are all logistics. And one can adapt to them after some passage of time. I am sitting writing here today to fill an absence that I will never adapt to, to fill a space that is always there on firsts, and also lasts like today. These words take the place of a phone call, “So, I just dropped her off.” They take the place of an embrace, like the one we shared in a dim kitchen the very first night we let her “cry it out” at four months old. They are the marker of the shared look we would’ve had this morning as she ran in with her empty backpack bouncing on her back for her last day, “There she goes.” I’m certain we would’ve held hands as we walked away.
The adaptation- keeping my hands busy- here, writing, the carving out of the blocks of clay I am handed each day until I can see them for what they are- heart-breakingly beautiful. To my beautiful daughter, my kindergartener, I wish you success and favor in the chronology years: first, second, third…and the gift of holding on to the timelessness that makes every day feel a world of its own and summers seem years- at least a little while longer.