Wednesday morning, I found myself asking Archer about his first day of school. I was curious as to whether or not he remembered. He shook his head, no, so I showed him a picture.
Moments later, as I sat beside Fable on the floor next to her dresser, I wondered if this moment, this time in her life, would also be forgotten. It's hard to believe that someday, when her sisters set off on the same embarkment, I will turn to her and she will shrug and say, much like her brother, "I don't remember, Mommy. No." Because in this moment, she is so totally here. Aware and present, pulling clothes from her middle drawer.
"I wear this to my peaschool today."
She picks out her own clothes now and Wednesday was no exception. I tied the top she chose, the one that used to be a dress, held her backpack as she placed her arms through the holes, the one with the penguin we bought for her at the Noah's Ark gift shop at Skirball. We told the kids they could pick one book each but Fable wanted a backpack. That was several months ago and at the time I remember thinking, "perhaps, a million years from now, she will wear this to school."
A million years ago equals two minutes.
We decided to start her in preschool this summer, instead of the Fall so she didn't feel replaced by her sisters. We wanted to give her time to dry her little wings. No hurry, we told her. "You'll start two half-days a week and eventually, when you're ready, stay every day. If you want to."
When we signed her up in May, we hadn't realized July would come so soon. Two months equals one second. It feels like that. Like sleeping in too late only to realize, FUCK. I have to get up today and take my baby to school. Because, she's still your baby. Even if she wears a 4T and knows all the words to two Katy Perry songs. Even though you have two more little girls on the way. You still see her as this wobbly one-year old just learning to walk. This blinking infant with vaseline in her eyes. THE daughter. Not for long, but for now. The baby. The littlest sister.
The teachers told me I could stay with her all day so that's what I planned to do. To chaperone her first day. To be there if she needed me.
Except, in the car on the way to school, she told me she wanted to go to "peaschool" by herself. She held my hand up the steps and then, let me go, down into the backyard, where the other children were playing.
"Hey, guys. This is Fable," I told them.
"Hi," Fable said.
She wandered toward the sandbox, and then broke off on her own, toward a playhouse where she closed the door and then opened a window.
"Hi, Mommy," she said.
"Can I come in?"
"Should I go home then?"
She smiled and closed the window.
"Should I go?" I kept asking the teachers. "Are you sure I shouldn't stay a few minutes more? An hour? Until lunch?"
"If you want to," they said.
I did want to. But I left.
I left because she didn't need me to be there. I left because she was fine without me and in the end, that's what I wanted. That's what we all want, right? For our kids to sit confidently at the picnic table, suck the juice from their orange slices without looking back. To grow up the kind of people who seldom, if ever, look back. Who move forward through their lives, open and eager to learn and change and be.
"Goodbye, Fable. I'll see you soon."
I watched her from inside the school, from behind the glass door, just in case she changed her mind or felt panicked or alone. I waited for story-time, when one of the teachers pulled out a book that happened to be Fable's favorite.
I watched the teacher's mouth move like slow motion. "The Napping House," she said, before opening up to the first page.
"It was a sign!" I texted Hal.
It was totally a sign.
Archer cried when I first left him at preschool. He cried for three weeks, every morning when I dropped him off. And then, on his first day of kindergarten he didn't look back.
I didn't know what to expect with Fable. She's always been independent, and yet, terribly, wonderfully, attached. One never knows how children will handle a first day... a first anything. It was presumptuous for me to assume, as I did, that at the very least she would hold onto my hand.
It's always an adventure, these things. They surprise us, our babes. We go around thinking we know them best, only to find, if we're lucky, that (perhaps) they know themselves better. That they are extensions, not of us, but of themselves. That no matter how many times we've felt them kick within us, they can indeed be fine without us.
I'll see you soon.
When I picked her up, she was painting. She kept pushing me away when I tried to take her hand. She wasn't finished, she said. She was busy. She pointed her paintbrush at me.
"Go that way," she said. "Peas mommy! PEAS!"
When we got home her brother was waiting in the doorway. Fable ran to him, arms open and they spent the remainder of the afternoon talking about her day. "What did you do today, Fable? Did you make any friends? Did you have lunch? What was your favorite thing that you did? What kind of songs did you sing?"
"I paint picture of a cow!" Fable said. "And I paint a wall!"
"When I was in preschool," Archer said, handing her the bin of purple Playdoh, "I liked to paint, too."
And suddenly, all of the things Archer said he didn't remember, he did. And over Playdoh and orange juice, they exchanged stories. Of preschool and Kindergarten, of first days and last... Fable showed Archer the lion pose she learned in Yoga, Archer counted to twenty-nine in Spanish, and afterward: silence as the two of them rolled purple balls and stacked them like snowmen in the middle of the table. Silence as I watched them from the kitchen, trying to remember everything that came before this. Before I was the mother of a preschooler and a First Grader... the things that used to move me and break me and teach me. The things that do now.