It is the first day of preschool. We walk in, hand in hand, her pink backpack bouncing on her back. Her other arm wrapped tightly around my leg. "Don't worry," I say, "you'll have fun. It's okay to be a little nervous, but you'll make new friends, and your teacher is very nice."
She is silent, her eyes wide. We walk into her classroom, and her teacher smiles and kneels down to her level. "Hi Greta," she says gently, "welcome to Preschool."
Greta clutches my hand tighter and buries her face in my shirt. The teacher reaches out her hand. "Come with me, I'll show you your new cubby," she says.
Greta is three and a half, her tiny ponytails shining, adorned with little bows she picked out herself. She couldn't wait for this day, talked about it non-stop. Until the day came, and now she is scared.
I promise myself that if she doesn't want to go, I won't make her. "Come see!" the teacher says cheerfully, still holding out her hand. "Your cubby has your name on it and everything - we're so excited you're here!"
Greta hesitates, and looks up at me - her eyes are huge. I'm frozen, conflicted. I want to swoop her up in my arms and run out the door. I want to stop time, keep her little. I want her to be brave. I don't want her to be brave. I make a little bet with myself: if she doesn't reach for the teacher's hand I'll take her home and we'll try again another day.
"Momma?" she whispers. I bend down.
"You'll pick me up after rest time, right?" she nods bravely.
I smile, my heart breaking a little. "Yes, honey, when you wake up, I'll be here."
"Okay, Momma. Bye. I love you." She kisses my cheek, turns, and reaches for the teacher's hand.
The school hallway is noisy, bustling - full of kids, parents and teachers coming for the 1st grade open house. "C'mon, Mom!" Greta is impatient, pulling me by the hand. "I want to see my friends!" She is dragging me down the hall.
A squeal as she runs into a friend from her class last year. They hug and jump up and down. "Look, Mom!" Greta says. "That's the cafeteria, where I'll eat lunch every day! I can buy it if I want to, or bring my own lunch!" Her eyes are shining as she tugs me along. "And here is the auditorium, where we put on plays and see movies. And THAT was were I went to Kindergarten, down that hall. But I'm in FIRST GRADE now, so I don't go there anymore."
We find her classroom, the last one on the left. She hesitates for a moment, then finds her seat with her name tag on it. She sits right down, looking around expectantly.
"It's just a visit today," I begin, "tomorrow you'll -"
"MOM! I KNOW!" she says, rolling her eyes.
Another squeal - it is another friend from her class last year, they will be sitting right next to each other the whole year. "MOM!" she shouts. "Come see!" She rushes out into the hall, and points. "This is my locker!"
I stare, agape, at the big red metal locker with her name on it. A real, honest-to-goodness locker.
A big kid's locker.
She is running up to friends, hugging and chatting. I stand helplessly in the hall, until I catch the eye of a friend, and we chat for a bit. I look around for Greta - she is standing with a gaggle of girls, laughing.
"Ready to go, honey?" I ask. She peels away from her friends, and I reach for her hand as we make our way back to the car. She pulls it away and looks around self-consciously.
"Are you nervous about the first day of school tomorrow?" I ask in the car, berating myself a little, because I kind of want her to say yes.
"Nope," she answers without hesitation. "This is gonna be COOL!"