Today, like many when you are parenting was a first. First day of Kindergarten. Let me spoil the mystery by saying she did fine. Better than fine, if I am truthful. She hopped on the bus without even looking backward. It never occurred to her that she would be leaving the protective arms of the mother who loves her beyond what the English language would allow in prose. She climbed the all too big bus stairs, waved and disappeared until 2:45pm when she was deposited safely back to me in the same fashion...descending the too large stairs with a too large backpack strapped to her tiny frame. Her only comment, "I got a Hersey's kiss, Mama. It was great!" Then she immediately started the verbal campaign to play with her version of American Idol, Jessica, who is ten. But Jessica completed her first day of 4th grade and already had homework.
All day I thought about September 17, 2002. Why this day? It was the first full day of parenting Ava. It happened in Changsha, Hunan China. She was 1 day shy of eight months old. I loved her but I was forcing myself to love her. I think I knew I would eventually love her without forcing myself but September 17th, the first full day I was truly forcing myself. She cried...a lot. She cried every minute she was in the hotel room. Or, that is the way I remember it. She cried every moment I was in charge of holding her in the hotel room. Although this picture proves me incorrect.
The Muffin Man was over the moon with the whole meeting Ava business, but I was freaking out. I remember when this picture was taken I was clenching my teeth hoping she would not start screaming again. The cups seemed to help keep her busy for 2 minutes. This photo must have been shot 1 and 1/2 minutes into the cup adventure. I really don't like this picture, we look so happy and we were not. She was probably fine although exhausted. I had been a parent for about 24 hours. She had been a child with forever parents (however lame) for 24 hours. I honestly thought, I have survived cancer and corporate jobs, and 11 years of marriage and yet, I'm not sure I can survive one more day of parenting. It was too overwhelming, too stressful. This little child needed more than I could give her. She deserved more than me. She was drop dead gorgeous, she was a survivor, she was perfect in every way...I was not. I wanted to look into those soft brown cashmere eyes and connect. But we did not. I knew it and she knew it.
Just after this picture was taken out travel mate Jeff knocked on the door. He was "checking" in on us. He had just met his daughter Alyssa who is now Ava's LBF (little best friend, from Chenzhou) They were second time parents and their little girl slept, and ate, and cooed and smiled. She even napped. Her mother was completely smitten from minute one. She instinctively knew how to be a great mother. I did not. Although I did make a mean bottle, even Ava had to concede to that. She got the cashmere eye connection that I so desperately wanted. Jeff casually asked if we were doing better. (This was polite code for Are you ok? You seem a wee bit stressed.) I told him we were fine and Ava was perfect in every way but the last 24 hours seemed like 24 years, if truth be told. He stepped back a bit in that Dolton Hotel hallway and smiled a knowing smile at me. He got quiet and said, "Perrin, you have such a short time with her before she grows up. She will be big before you know it. She will be going to Kindergarten in a blink of an eye. Enjoy her while she is so little."
I did not get it at all. I had parented this child for 24 hours and I thought I might spontaneously combust from the stress and he was talking about 5 years of this? I could not conceive five years. I had recently received massive doses of cancer therapy and other emotional therapy telling me to take it one day at a time. How could I do five years? I could barely survive 24 hours. I thanked him politely and closed the hotel room door after making arrangements to meet his family for breakfast the next morning.
After I shut the door Ava cried, and I cried. After Brian got her to sleep (a two hour adventure) I had what I am pretty sure was a panic attack. My Muffin Man held my hand from the twin bed next to mine and told me to breathe, the same way he did after I had a chemo treatment and was afraid I would be throwing up all night 2 years before. He pretty much talked me down from the tastefully wallpapered wall.
The next morning I dug my heels in determined to be a good mother to this child. I would survive until Kindergarten. We would survive until Kindergarten. I didn't come all this way to give up now...and she didn't lose her first parents only to get a pair of sissys. We were in it for the long haul.
It's five years later. We survived. No, we did better than survive, we've had fun. We have loved, throwing caution to the wind. She has learned to trust, I have learned to be and to exist in her presence. It it exhilarating and maddening and a privilege.
Things like stepping on a big bus and going to a new classroom are easy for Ava. She is wicked strong. And she has people skills. Kids follow her. She has more God-given self confidence than me and and all of my girl power circle of friends has put together.
Alyssa's dad Jeff was right. Time has gone by quickly and now it is 5 years since that stressful day in Hunan China. He was my sage....enjoy your baby, before you know it she will be off to Kindergarten.