A series of goodbyes

“I have 6 days left of school,” declared my daughter who was entering first grade this April. She was referring to the day care slash nursery school she had been attending for the past two years now.

“No, I think you have four days left if you don’t count Monday since you’re coming with me to my book circle.”

“Four days…” she repeated. She went to where I was seated in a lotus position and she sat squat right in the space in the middle where my legs were tucked under my knees. She used to fit snuggly within the space but now at 6 years old, she was long and her legs stuck way out beyond my knees.

“I’m going to miss Saki-chan! She’s going to a different school,” she suddenly burst into tears.

Something in her crying released the sadness I have been feeling for some time now since we started preparing for elementary school, attending orientations, gathering all the supplies and uniform she will be needing, sewing and labeling her things. There was, however, one odd sized bag that I have not tackled yet, and the yard of fabric for it had been sitting on my pile of things to do.

I held her tight. Her four year old brother came over, patted her shoulder, and looked like he was going to start sobbing too. My husband held him.

“You’re going to miss seeing  big sister in school?” my husband asked. He nodded solemnly, a single tear falling from his eye.

We all sat quietly for many minutes savoring our sadness.

Maybe that’s why that yard of fabric is still sitting in my pile of things to do even though it’s a relatively easy bag to sew. Maybe, just maybe, if I don’t sew it up yet, I can still keep things the way they are.

We look forward to growing up and all the wonderful, exciting changes that go with it. Whenever my daughter saw bigger kids walking to school with their yellow caps and leather school backpacks, she declares, “That’s going to be me!” In two weeks, that is going to be her, walking to school without me.

I think it’s the “without me” part that left me with a tinge of sadness. The past few days, as we walked to her nursery school, she grips my hand tighter and seems more pensive, less chatty. It’s so difficult to remain present, knowing we have so few days left to do this. Did I savor every single day that I was given to walk with her to school before?

Jack Kornfield (in interpreting Buddhist teachings) wrote, “The trouble is, you think you always have time.” Time was a heavy sluggish river the past two years I walked her to school. When the new year came and we started preparing for elementary school, we were thrust right in the middle of surging floodwaters.

I look at her face and still see the pudgy little baby who was once an extension of me, strapped to my chest and going everywhere I went. And then I see a little girl, a beautifully stretched out version of the butterball baby she once was. To see her all grown up, running and jumping around is a miracle to me. When she was just a few weeks old, I remember bursting into tears shopping at Target at the sight of a little girl about 3 or 4 years old with her mommy. With her heart condition, I wasn’t sure whether she’d make it that far. But here she is now.

I distinctly remember a moment when I was completely present and enjoyed my children’s smallness. It was just last summer, we drove all the way to Kyushu. My husband had a presentation at a big hall in Beppu and after the presentation he had to talk some more to some people so I took my kids outside to while the time. Thinking he wouldn’t be long, I only brought my phone (a cheap phone which can only call and send short messages) with me so he could call us when he was done. We discovered a nice park opposite the big hall. The kids got very excited when they saw the park. Honestly, it was unremarkable park compared to the many more fun looking places with colorful play equipment we have been to. But this did not diminish their level of excitement. “We’ve been sitting inside all day. It’s so nice to be outside,” my daughter said as she ran off.

The park had these different textured things cemented to the ground you can walk on barefoot and massage your feet. The kids followed my lead and happily took off their shoes and socks and ran barefoot. Later, I sat to rest on the bench. For a second, I regretted not bringing a book. My husband was taking much longer than I expected, but I realized that I have not really watched them play. Almost always, when I take them to a park or a playground, I bring something to read. This time, I watched. They did a foot race. Then they pretended to be trains and the rocks were the train tracks. Then they pretended to be airplanes and the rocks became the runway. Then they discovered that they can throw the pine cones like balls. Then they discovered a gigantic rock they can jump from. Then they wanted to find out how high the water can shoot up from the water fountain. Then they played hide and seek amongst the trees. It was amazing how busy they can keep themselves with almost nothing.

I wondered at what age does this stop? At what age will they stop being silly, forget how to imagine, or play with wild abandon? What I was really asking myself is, at what age does growing up happen, and when do I have to say goodbye to their smallness?

Every day since they were born, I have been saying goodbye. Goodbye to the baby carrier when they learned to walk. Goodbye to the washable diapers when they learned to use the potty. Goodbye to bibs and baby chairs when they can eat fairly neatly and reach the table. Goodbye  to clothes that have gotten smaller. Goodbye to books that have become too easy to read. Goodbye to the tricycle and hello to the bicycle. And on and on. And it really wasn’t to the things I said goodbye to but to the child who once used and needed them. For a while, I held on to these things as if I could hold on to their smallness.

The night I held my daughter as she cried about parting with her nursery school friends, I  felt the weight of all those goodbyes. And I know that these small goodbyes are simply preparing me for that final goodbye I have to bid them when I pass away.  I held my daughter tighter.

Not yet. Hopefully not too soon. Meanwhile, I  still have an odd sized bag to sew.

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