To My Daughter, on Her First Day of Kindergarten

I held your heart inside of me for forty weeks.

I held you in my arms for hours without putting you down the day I gave birth to you. I never wanted to let you go. 

But I had to. I had to let go. You needed a bath, a hearing test, and a checkup. I didn’t want someone else holding you, but I knew I needed to pass you along. And I knew we’d be OK. 

When you came back, I held you again.

I held you when you cried, and you needed to be comforted. I held you when you were tired; when you needed to fall asleep and only Mama’s arms would do. 

I held you through the night and in the wee morning hours. When I felt like we were the only two people in the world awake. I held you in our rocking chair, on the couch, standing, bouncing, walking. I held you in every position that might soothe you. 

I let go when you wanted to roll. Then crawl. Then walk, run, jump, climb, and — inevitably — fall. I was nervous. I didn’t want you to get hurt. I worried constantly. But I did it, I was able to let go. 

And you came back. And I held you again.

I held you while I nursed you. Many, many, many times. For those long marathon nursing sessions. To calm you and get you to sleep. For comfort when you were teething.

I held you and fed you on airplanes and boats and trains. At parties, at meetings, at even an NBA game. In the beginning, I held you in many different ways — the cradle hold, football hold, lying on our sides — whatever it’d take to get you to latch comfortably. 

 

 

When you became more mobile but were still breastfeeding, I tried to hold you as you nursed. Instead, you held a toddler gymnastics/yoga combo class as you had your milk and climbed all over me. And I realized, you didn’t want to be held quite the same way anymore.

Eventually, I let you go. I was as ready as I was going to be, and you seemed confident that you were ready to stop. So, you did. You weaned; I cried; we moved on. 

I held your hand when you were scared at the doctor. I held you up on the playground when you wanted to try the monkey bars. I held you in my bed when you had a nightmare. 

But I let go again. I saw a pattern. I didn’t always want to, but I felt a twinge that had grown familiar inside of me that meant I knew I needed to. I watched you go up to kids you never met before and bravely introduce yourself. I’d overhear you enthusiastically ask the other kid, “You want to play?” before you both ran off together laughing.

We separated for three hours a day, three days a week for year one of preschool, and then for three hours a day, four days a week for year two of preschool. We got used to being apart for a little while, and I got used to watching you walk away from me into that sweet yellow schoolhouse. 

You came back. I held you again.

I held you in a big bear hug with a huge smile when I picked you up from school. Then cuddles on the couch once we got home. 

I held you when you were tired and couldn’t walk anymore (even if I knew you were faking). I held you on my back as we hiked or in my carrier as we traveled. 

I’ve mastered holding you, but honestly, I’m still learning how to let go. 

Motherhood is a cycle of holding on and letting go. It’s a continuous loop. I don’t know that I’m getting any better at it, and it’s definitely not getting easier, but it is consistently getting more exciting to watch you grow into the person you are becoming. And that softens the blow of letting go just a little bit. 

 

 

I laid down next to you the other night in your small twin bed because I missed you. Kindergarten is creeping up on us, and it is the biggest shift in our lives since the day you were born five and a half years ago.

How’d it get here so fast?

The second I laid down, you instinctively reached for me. You were sleeping, but you said, “Mama” in your sleep. You knew it was me, and you held onto my arm.

My baby, my firstborn — we’re going to keep doing this to each other. Holding on and letting go. Over and over. It’s how life works. You may need me to hold you when someone was mean to you on the playground, or later, when your heart is broken — over a lost game or a broken friendship or one-way crush. Please always know that when you reach for me, I’ll never be far.

But we need to practice letting go. Because the world is waiting for you and all your splendor. I can’t hold you back, I won’t. I’ll always try to encourage you forward. 

In one week, you’ll start kindergarten. Six hours a day, five days a week — and it’ll be different. We’ll all need to adjust. But we’ll get there, I know we will. This is the start of so much for you. Don’t be afraid to show them who you are — your kind heart, your enthusiastic spirit, your curious mind.

I want you to give them hell, my girl.

I’ll let you go because it’d be a crime if I didn’t allow the world to experience you and all you have to offer. All your dreams and many exciting things lay right in front of you, just on the other side of this shift. 

It makes me sad to think of letting go more and more. But I guess I’ll never have to let go completely.

I held your heart inside of me for forty weeks, and I could never forget how that felt.

Because it never completely left. It will always be inside my heart. Forever and always. No matter what.

That’s what it means to be a mother.

 

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