Earlier this year, when winter turned into spring, I decided to give Little Miss a lesson on life cycles.
You see, instead of sending her to preschool at age 3 and 4, I had kept her home, where I taught her the early stages of the three R’s, plus things like life cycles and a whole lot more. (I think, anyway. We’ll see when she gets tested in the fall.) The reasons for keeping her home were many, but the main one was, I admit, purely selfish. As my last baby, I wanted to keep her home with me as long as possible. Having seen her older sisters sail at supersonic speed from kindergarten to middle school, I am all too aware of how fast it goes. And I am all too aware of the feeling that once they start school, you lose a huge part of them as they’re sucked into schedules, routines, homework, projects, contagious viruses, a whole new social group—all of which are pretty much out of your control.
I will be losing my Little Miss exactly one month from today to the public education system.
My mother-in-law once told me that you start letting go of them a little each day from the minute they’re born. (This from a woman whose two out of three grown children live within 20 minutes of her, but whatever.) That was hard to imagine back in the days when I was their only source of nutrition for the first six months of their lives, and then as their only “beverage” for another year beyond that. That didn’t feel much like I was “letting go,” especially when it was two at a time.
I miss those days.
But that’s just the way it goes. It’s the circle of life. (Go ahead, sing The Lion King theme song here if you must.)
Oh, yes, back to teaching the life cycle. So I ordered one of those butterfly kits and a frog habitat, in which you have to send away for the larvae and the tadpoles. While we waited for our “babies” to arrive, we went to the library and got lots of books on life cycles, butterflies and tadpoles.
A couple weeks later, our “babies” all arrived on the same day in our mailbox: two tadpoles and six butterfly larvae. The tadpoles were easy. They just needed to put in some spring water, fed every other day and observed for signs of changing into frogs. The butterfly larvae were even easier. They just hung upside down in the little cup for about two weeks, each one slowly forming into a chrysalis. At that point, we observed more closely and actually got to witness four of the six emerge from their cocoons and unroll themselves into butterflies. As soon as they’re “born,” you feed them some orange slices and sugar water for a few days.
And then you let them go.
And it is beyond sad as you watch your child say goodbye to their beautiful Monarch friends, and you explain over and over why they have to be let go. And then you wonder why you ever did this project when it brings so much pain, especially when you’ve done it before with older children and heard the same wails and saw the same agonizing tears.
This is what it looked like, from the beginning to the end:
So by now, you must see where I’m going with this post. Yep, the old butterfly-gets-its-wings metaphor.
In college, for an English class assignment, I wrote an allegorical poem about leaving home, and I used a butterfly as a metaphor. My professor wrote “Cliche!” and “Overused!” in big fat red ink all over it. Gah! I cringe when I think of that awful poem. At the time, I was offended, but oh, how right he was. How could I have not seen that back then? Did I really think that was a good poem? And here I am again with the butterfly metaphor. But I don’t care. No one’s grading this, and right now, with my Little Miss one month away from starting kindergarten, it couldn’t be more appropriate.
How did this happen so quickly? Please excuse the use of yet another cliche, but it literally seems like I just had her. I can picture myself lying in that hospital bed, doing that final push despite my case of sudden-onset reflux. And then the doctor held her up and I saw her little girl parts and I realized then that despite the fact that I’d been saying I didn’t care what we were having, that I really, really did want another daughter.
And she was perfect. Her proud father kept saying her head was shaped like a trapezoid, but I never saw that. Not even in pictures to this day. In fact, she came out so clean, so pink, so chubby, and just so everything a baby should be. And I loved her immediately and deeply.
We got home from the hospital and settled into our easy, snuggly routine. And then I blinked my eyes and it was time for her to start kindergarten. Yes, really, just like that.
That’s how fast these almost-five years have gone. (She turns 5 exactly one week before the first day of school.)
Of course, I’ve been through this before, with the twins. And yes, that was doubly painful. But kindergarten was only half-days back then, so it was a teensy bit easier. It was when they started full-time 1st grade that I really had my breakdown. But being pregnant with another little one at the time made it a bit easier, and I started to enjoy my “me” time that year, knowing it would be my last for a while.
But this time, it’s different. I knew all along how fast it was going to go, which is why I tried to make the most of each day we had together, and why I kept her home with me. But just because you realize it, doesn’t mean time slows down. I wish it worked that way.
And by the way, those two tadpoles I mentioned we sent away for in February? They were supposed to turn into frogs in two weeks. It is now almost six months later and they’re still tadpoles. One of them hasn’t grown a bit, and neither are even close to losing their tails or growing legs. I even emailed the company to find out what’s the deal.
If only our children could be more like the tadpoles.
When I think about how fast my girls have grown and are growing, I get like a hot flash, a lump in my throat and a stabbing pain in the gut, especially when I realize that with the twins turning 12 later this month and starting 7th grade in the fall, it means they’re only going to be home with us for another six years before they go off to college.
Go away, lump, hot flash and stabbing pain, go away!
I get that same hot flashy, lumpy, stabbing-pain-in-the-gut feeling when I imagine the first day of kindergarten one month from today. I’m dreading it more than anyone could know. I’m dreading it as much as I’m already dreading the walk back to the car after we leave her older sisters in their dorm rooms at college.
But I can’t go there right now. That’s an entirely different post. Heck, that’s an entirely different blog.
If you look at those last few pictures of Little Miss after having kissed her butterflies goodbye and letting them go, you’ll get an idea of what I will be looking like at 9 a.m. one month from today. And the day after that. And probably the day after that. And then, after a few more days like that, I’m sure I will enjoy the few hours I’ll have to myself to “get my groove back.” I’m looking forward to the day when I look at the clock and go, “Oh, man, it’s time to pick them up already?”
But until then, I’m holding on to my little larvae.
P.S. If by some chance a bald and probably retired college professor who looks like Paul Shaffer happens upon this blog, please refrain from writing “Cliche!” or “Overused!” in the comment box. I already know it is and I don’t care.