She started preschool just before her second birthday. Ruby was just two months old, and I was desperate to get Clara a regular activity, where she would get more stimulation than I could provide at home. In hindsight, she was still so little.
Brian had to do the drop off that first week. I couldn't handle the idea of walking away from her crying. I already had a heavy heart worrying about how she was being pushed to grow up faster than her brother. And I was missing her weeks before she even started spending three days a week away from me. Since her birth, she and I were together all day. Every day. And then Ruby was born, and I had to turn away from her. To urge her towards Brian so I could meet Ruby's newborn needs.
After the first week, she settled in. And she started to really love school. I remember reading this book to her over and over. She would name the children in the book with the names of her classmates. She talked about her teachers on the weekends, how she would see them tomorrow and tell them all about what we did today.
Now, after more than two years there, she is as comfortable at school as she is at home. She knows all the teachers, and they call out to her when she walks down the hallway. Clara! Can I have a hug, Clara? I love your outfit today, Clara! She loves it there.
And last week was her last day.
Next month she will go to her brother's big kid school. We've explained it to her, but I don't think it has really sunk in. She says she's nervous, and I tell her sometimes that is what excited feels like. But also, it's okay to be nervous.
I think because Ruby came so close behind her, Clara's early years have passed faster than the other two, a blur of curly hair and girly clothes and big emotions. She is still our most sensitive child, and a girl drawn to extremes. When she is happy she smiles and laughs and hugs and is a whir of color and charm. When she is upset, her tears come easy and she is hard to console. "I can't calm down," she says almost every day. "It takes me a long time to feel better," she says. She rolls with what life throws at her until she suddenly can't, and is undone by a ripped paper, the wrong color plate, an itchy sock.
On her last day, we went out for ice cream to celebrate the milestone. I told her she could get anything she wanted, and she picked a strawberry milkshake.
The day we told the school that she wouldn't be going there next year, I was close to tears. It wasn't so much that I was sad that she was leaving, because if it wasn't this year it would have to be next year. And Ruby will still be there, so Clara can visit and see all the teachers she loves.
I think the tears were more from an almost bewildered place in my heart. Where did my baby Clara go? She was just here! I was walking her in these doors and she was two years old. Ruby was asleep in the stroller. Clara's teachers were asking me to bring more diapers. She needed me.
And now she is finished. She isn't coming back. She is moving on to the next thing. And she still needs me, but differently. And I can see the future stretching out ahead of her - elementary school, middle school, high school, college. It was all there on that day that I told the preschool she wasn't coming back next year.
And driving home, I was swallowing hard, trying not to cry, because she will ask, "Why are you sad, mama?" And how can I explain this to a four year old? That no matter how many photos I take, or notes I write about the things she says, or moments I try to fix in my mind, I cannot capture her. That everyday she grows up she moves further away from me? And really, I never even had her to begin with.
That Sweet Honey and the Rock song, based on Kahlil Gibran's On Children, was in my ears.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you, but they are not from you,
And though they are with you, they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
They have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But you cannot make them just like you.
Strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.
And I know that the tears that leak out are not just for the dizzy speed of my children's growing up. I am crying for the swiftness of my own life. I will be forty soon. Where did all that time go? Cliches bounce in my head: the days last forever, but the years fly by. It's true - but what am I supposed to do about it?
I read Joan Didion's "Blue Nights" recently, and I found myself marking pages to come back to, because no one captures elusive feelings in words better than Joan Didion.
"When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.I just said that, but what does it mean?
All right, of course I can track it, of course you can track it, another way of acknowledging that our children are hostages to fortune, but when we talk about our children what are we saying? Are we saying what it meant to us to have them? What it meant to us not to have them? What it means to let them go? Are we talking about the enigma of pledging ourselves to protect the unprotectable? About the whole puzzle of being a parent?
Time passes.Yes, agreed, a banality, of course time passes.
Then why do I say it, why have I already said it more than once?
Have I been saying it the same way I say I have lived most of my life in California?
Have I been saying it without hearing what I say?
Could it be that I heard it more this way: Time passes, but not so aggressively that anyone notices? Or even: Time passes, but not for me? Could it be that I did not figure in either the general nature or the permanence of the slowing, the irreversible changes in mind and body, the way in which you awake one summer morning less resilient than you were and by Christmas find your ability to mobilize gone, atrophied, no longer extant? The way in which you live most of your life in California, and then you don't? The way in which your awareness of this passing time - this permanent slowing, this vanishing resilience - multiplies, metastasizes, becomes your very life?
Time passes.Could it be that I never believed it?
Did I believe the blue nights could last forever?"
Could it be that I never believed it? And my sweet children, of the many gifts they bring, there is this: irrefutable proof that yes, time passes, even for me.