Tomorrow, on August 31, 2010, at exactly 9:00 a.m., my baby starts preschool.
My last child. My little girl.
It's baffling to me that this is even possible, considering that I just gave birth to her. After all, it was mere moments ago that I held her newborn body in my arms, yet here she is, three years old.
Three years old, and independent and spunky as the day is long.
We attended preschool orientation last Wednesday morning for an hour, and my daughter had the audacity to be mad at me because I wouldn't leave. "Mama, leeeeave," she said firmly. "I wanna stay here by myself."
"Today is not the day I leave," I responded. "Your first day is on Tuesday."
Then she cried, not because she was scared to start preschool, but because she couldn't stay there by herself. I was cramping her 3-year old style.
Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Isn't she supposed to cry because I am leaving her?
That independent streak. Gets me every time.
It's not that I want her to cling and cry when I leave. But couldn't she at least pretend to be the tiniest bit devastated that her one-and-only beloved mother is leaving her alone at school for two and a half hours?
Couldn't she just pretend for my sake?
Dang. Three-year olds are so selfish.
For the last decade, it has been a constant. My children's ages are staggered in such a way that there has always been someone with me while another child has started school. Over the last ten years, I have become so used to having at least one child with me at the grocery store, or when I go to a doctor's appointment, or messing up my piles of laundry as I fold them, or fidgeting while I attend a meeting at school, or with me as I lunch with a friend, that it has become second nature. Sure, I have had plenty of moments to myself over the years, but on a regular, daily basis, it is usually me plus one or more of my shorties.
But now, my fourth and final shorty is starting preschool. She's only going to be away from me for a grand total of five hours a week.
I can deal.
More than one person has asked me, "Clare, what are you going to do with all that free time?"
Well, in simple terms, whatever the heck I want to, thankyouverymuch.
Perhaps I will go into a changing room and try on a pair of jeans without a little pair of eyes staring back and me and snickering, "Tee hee...mama. I see your underwears."
Perhaps I will go to Starbucks and just sit and stare at people without having to scold, "Stop touching that or you'll knock over that display of mugs!"
Perhaps I will go to the grocery store and just walk through the aisles. And actually read labels. And check prices. And look at all my choices without having to throw stuff into the cart while chasing a toddler.
Perhaps I will do whatever I darn well please. Because I can. At least for two and half hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the next 10 months.
I'm totally excited about this new phase.
I know I'll get there soon. But right now, as I think of the last ten years of constant, baby-wearing, kid hand-holding, 24/7 parenting, and I realize that my last baby is growing up, I'm just kind of sad.
Growing up is hard to do.
And this time, I'm not talking about my kids.