No, really, I mean it. When my daughter was a baby, I decided to stay home with her for the first couple of years. But then she just kept staying so small that I decided to stay home with her until she went to school. But kindergarten was less than three hours a day, and when I walked her there the first day and told her where I'd be when she came out after school she said, "But first will I see you at recess?" By then I was freelancing and teaching in the evenings, and it was the easiest thing in the world to push it back another year or two. Finally, changing circumstances made the decision for me when she was nine.
There were a lot of wonderful things about being home with her during those years--Mommy & Me, going swimming every day in the summer, hundreds of walks and hundreds of stories, and getting to be the one who pushed her on the swings and then who taught her to pump, who held up the back end of her bicycle and then let go. One of the greatest things, though, was seeing the world through her eyes. Things I would have walked right past required inspection--an unusual flower on the river bank, a stick that looked like a boat floating downstream and had to be named. I've never been a "stop and smell the roses" kind of girl. I know what roses smell like; let's move on. But if I didn't have a lot of interest in the rose, I was purely fascinated by the way my baby's eyes changed when SHE saw the rose, or the way she reached out for something new and interesting without even seeming to realize that she'd done it.
As so often happens to me, two things converged this week to bring all of this back to mind. The first was that a woman on discussion board referred to early childhood as "this wonder filled time". The second was that I took my daughter to register for middle school.
Let me admit right up front that I'm not thrilled about this middle school thing. The middle school is BIG. And it's a public school in a very socio-economically mixed area. I went to middle school, and even thirty years ago I was offered drugs and suddenly activities were being suggested that I'd never heard of before. This is where we find out just how much influence our family and the church has had on her decision-making processes, just how secure she is in her own values, just how she processes new and possibly not-yet-welcome information...and maybe it's not good parenting, but I'd put that day off for another decade or so if I could.
So, we arrived at the middle school gymnasium (at least, it looked like a gymnasium to me...they CALL it a "cafetorium") and I wrote checks at several different tables, and at each one she got something new...a planner, her locker assignment and combination, her schedule (as we walked away from that table she said, "I have a schedule!"), her gym suit. Then we went out into the school to look for her locker and her classrooms, and an amazing thing happened. The hallways were filled with children on the verge of adolescence who were still filled with wonder at the ordinary--it was just a different ordinary. They showed each other their (identical) gym suits. They compared schedules and jumped up and down when they found out they had classes together. They asked questions like, "Did you SEE the tables in the science room?!" They checked out all-important issues like "Can I work my lock?" and "Can I fit inside my locker?" (These seemed to be of approximately equal importance.) And I realized that watching my daughter work her first combination lock on her first official locker with barely controlled excitement was just as much fun as watching her discover her first butterfly, even if she did insist on trading in those cute little dresses for torn jeans and t-shirts somewhere in between. I suspect there are a lot of new discoveries still to come