Putting Heidi on the bus her first day of kindergarten broke my heart into a thousand pieces.
Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But that’s how I felt standing on the curb as the bus pulled away, my firstborn on her way to school and tears falling down my cheeks.
The morning started off great. The night before, we had visited her classroom and met her teacher. I had cooked her very favorite meal of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for dinner. We had all snuggled on the couch and watched a movie. She had gone to bed early.
We had her book bag ready, her outfit picked out, her favorite cereal ready to go. I had (or so I thought) until 8:15 a.m. to be at the bus stop. We woke up with plenty of time so we enjoyed a slow breakfast together. Heidi sat at the table coloring while little brother Gavin lined his cars up on the floor. I finally sent her to brush her hair and her teeth while I went to change out of my pajamas.
Around 7:40, I realized I had never visited the transportation website to double check the arrival time of her bus. I logged in, sipping my coffee. Once the page pulled up, my heart dropped. 7:50?! How had I missed that? I jumped out of my seat, nearly spilling my coffee, and called for Heidi.
“Heidi, quick! Get your clothes on! We’re gonna miss your bus!!”
I shoved her lunch box in her bag, threw my hair in a ponytail, and shoved Gavin’s shoes on his feet. Heidi came walking into the kitchen with hair disheveled, no shoes on, and looking confused.
“I thought we had time,” she said.
“We don’t!!” I said. “Quick, get your sandals on, we have got to go!”
I couldn’t believe I was going to make Heidi miss her bus on the first day of school. We ran
and scrambled and gathered our things and ran outside. I could hear the bus coming, and I could see an entire group of people at the corner bus stop where Heidi was supposed to already be waiting.
“Go ahead, babe, run! We will catch up!” I told her, as I tried to hurry her little brother along. As we ran, I realized I had left her name tag, complete with her name, her teacher’s name, and her bus number, on the counter in the kitchen. UGH! I thought to myself, feeling frustrated with myself.
When we finally got to the bus stop, she was already in line and the bus had stopped and opened its doors. I was desperate for that first day of school picture, so I hollered for her to turn around really quick. I snapped my photo. And then she was gone, her big ol’ backpack disappearing onto the big yellow bus. I squinted my eyes, trying to see inside the tinted windows to see which seat she was in. I finally saw her. I could barely make out a big smile and her little hand waving, blowing me a kiss.
I smiled the biggest smile I could muster, even though the tears threatened, and I blew her a kiss back.
I waited until the bus was out of sight before I let the dull ache in my chest invade and I began to cry. She was only going to the elementary school down the road, but something about it felt so much bigger and a little bit more painful than I anticipated.
My two-year-old, helmet-clad and already speeding home on his bike, looked up at me. “Why you crying, mom?” he demanded to know.
“Oh, no reason,” I said, trying hard to get myself under control.
But really, I felt heartbroken. In my emotional pile of rubble, I began to doubt everything I ever did as a mom. Did I spend enough time with her these first six years? Did I talk her through all the life lessons I possibly could? Did I yell too much? Did we make the most of our time together? How will I know everything that happens to her in an entire day? Is sending her off to public school the right thing to do? What if kids are mean to her? What if she gets sad or scared or lonely and doesn’t know who to tell? What if school is hard for her? What if she forgets everything I told her about being kind and learning from mistakes and not to compare herself to others and always keep an eye out for the lonely kids?
Why does this hurt so much?
I had pictured the morning going so differently. It was supposed to be so much better. We were supposed to have plenty of time to talk about what her day might be like. We were supposed to have time to brush her hair and fix it how she wanted it. We were supposed to have time to brush her teeth and double check her lunch and slip a treat inside and make sure she wasn’t feeling nervous. We were supposed to get to the bus stop early so she could meet the other big kids, and I could meet the other mamas, and we could take lots of pictures. I wanted her to feel completely ready and confident, well-rested, well-fed, and equipped for the day.
Instead, we arrived at the bus stop disheveled, a little unprepared and slightly late. My anxieties began. What if she gets teased for her un-combed hair? What if someone comments on her stinky breath? What if she feels like I shoved her onto the bus and she’s not sure where to go and she feels overwhelmed by everything? What if she ends up in the car pickup line at the end of the day because I left her name tag at home? Or even worse, what if she gets on the wrong bus? I had failed her on her very first day of school. I was also probably upset that I didn’t get that time with her before she left…that I myself couldn’t prepare well enough for our first day away from her.
Over the course of the day, I calmed down a little. I talked to my mom, I talked to friends, and most importantly, I prayed. It brought unspeakable peace to me to be able to pray for my daughter when she was out of sight.
As I prayed, I wonder if maybe my expectations for her first day of kindergarten were a tad too high (read: a lot too high). I had wanted it to be all around perfect. But life doesn’t go that way, does it? We sometimes wake up late. We spill coffee on our clean pants. We forget those important papers. We run out of mascara (this can truly be horrifying, haha). We receive bad news. We say mean things in our hasty anger to the people we love, and then regret it during our lunch hour. We fail to make time to breathe deep, say a prayer, or eat our breakfast. We get in a fender bender. We leave our wallets at home. We run late…always, always late, it seems.
Or maybe it’s something bigger. We don’t land our dream job right out of college. Maybe we didn’t even get to college. The person of our dreams decides they don’t love us back. Marriage is harder than we anticipated. Our kids are born with their own quirks and challenges and sometimes even diseases we never asked for. Some of our babies don’t get born at all. Life is more heartbreaking than we ever could have dreamed, in so many ways.
Life just never quite goes how we think. I am doing Heidi a disservice if I focus more on teaching her to create a perfect day more than I am teaching her to handle life as it comes. Because it will come and it will plow her down if I don’t equip her with courage and compassion instead of the ability to orchestrate the perfect morning routine. Because that routine won’t save her. These life lessons start small, in bite-size pieces, so that she can stretch and learn as she grows.
This was most certainly a lesson for myself. I get miffed sometimes when my day, or life, doesn’t go how I want. But I did everything right! Why is it so hard?
Because life is hard. And we would do well to remember that joy, kindness, gratitude, and peace are within us, thanks to God, and not in the perfect life, marriage, kids, friendships, portfolio, house, experiences, etc.
And we all know that a perfect morning routine and the perfect cup of coffee does not beget the perfect day.
I pondered these things all day as I waited for 3:30 to roll around.
Heidi got off the bus with a huge smile on her face. I squeezed her breathless and asked her a million questions. I apologized for our crazy morning.
“Oh mom,” she said shaking her head, acting blasé and waving her hand as if to assure me not to worry, “it was just fine. Don’t worry. I love the bus, and kindergarten was so fun.”
She proceeded to tell me how nice the teachers were, how they showed her where to go, how they made her a replacement name tag, and how her new (and old!) friends made her smile. She told me all the things she did by herself and how they got to blow bubbles outside and have popsicles after recess. She told me that next week they would be able to walk into the school all by themselves.
There it is. She learned that the world doesn’t end when the morning isn’t so smooth. She saw that the people around her lift her up on a bad day. She could see that her mama isn’t perfect. She learned that a day can still be amazing even when things don’t go as planned.
Why is it taking me so long to learn the same things? Our lives can be amazing, even when they don’t go as planned. Chances are that trials and mishaps deepen our empathy and character. They prepare us better for what’s to come.
If I could handle a rough day with half as much grace as my kindergartener, I’m doing pretty well. I think I’ll work on that.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.
When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.
Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.