I’ve written here many times, and have entertained friends and family for hours on end, about the toughness of S. She’s mean, she’s stubborn, she can be ruthless. At only 4-years-old she has her brothers, her friends and, at times, her parents walking on egg shells, giving her a wide berth and skirting the jagged edges of her impulsive rage. But here’s something I know: S is not so tough. My wiry little blonde who can’t seem to break 40 lbs. is mostly bark, largely smoke and no fire. Sure, I’ve seen her rain terror down on her siblings, I’ve borne witness to her striking down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy her, and I’ve heard her argue toe to toe with someone 30 years her senior. But I’ve also seen this little girl hide when someone addresses her, been there when her shyness – my shyness – takes hold. I’ve comforted her when her feelings were hurt and she’s curled up in my lap just to be close to her daddy.
S can take care of herself if need be, of that I have no doubt. But tomorrow I send her off to her first day of kindergarten, her first day of real, day in and day out, school. And though I’ve had this first day twice now with C and JP, this is my little girl and I know this will be the most difficult yet. And even as I write this I’m not sure if I’m talking about a problem for her or for me. I’m so familiar with her trigger-like defenses, her prickly veneer and willingness to argue a point until accession, but I also know how she shrinks from attention and of her confusion by authority. Likewise, I have experience in leaving the kids – leaving them somewhere in the mornings has been my dire task for nine years, so I’ve created this persona of myself as a parent who doesn’t really mind leaving his kids someplace, and an image of his daughter as a little girl who, among all of his other children, is a child confident in her own survival skills. But we’re neither all the time. Truth be told, we’re both a little scared. For her because tomorrow is the unknown, it’s School, school with a capital S, with all its homework, schedules and order. As I sit here in the early morning, writing, thinking, sipping my coffee and smoking my cigar while she sleeps somewhere nearby, I realize that my greatest worry isn’t that S is scared of her first day or uncertain about just what is going on, but that tomorrow is the first day for something that will last for at least the next 12 years. And my greatest concern for my little girl is that they will break her spirit with their order and their desks and their conduct grades. That the beast that is the City School System will do what they strive to do best, create a tepid child.
The little girl S is now, with her faults, with her concoction of sweetness and callousness, is the woman I want her to become so that I don’t have to worry about her wherever she may end up, though I know I always will.