There were tears all around. Kids. Parents. Even the clicking cameras sounded anxious and...sad.
I sat on the side smiling at my child. She bit her lip nervously and managed a weak smile.
The night before we sat huddled under her covers, hoping we could shut out today. We'd spent the day combating her first school-day nerves by pumping up kindergarten to be a land of fairies, stories, games and cotton candy; comparing it to preschool and summer camp; relaying our own experiences as equally scared kindergarteners; and answering any and all questions about big-girl school. By evening, we were all kindergartened out.
"I don't want to go, Mommy."
"I know, sweetie. I know you're nervous and scared and I felt the same way when I started kindergarten. But, tell me. If Mama said 'Ok, Marley. You don't have to go to school. You can stay home.' What would you say?"
Holding my breath...I waited. After what seemed like the longest pause ever she answered:
"No Mama. I have to go because I have learning to do."
I kissed her on the forehead and squeezed her tight, holding back tears. I said goodnight, promised her Daddy's famous Saturday-only pancakes in the morning and went off to my room.
I sat in my bed and cried. But, it wasn't because my baby was growing up and leaving me. It was because my baby was growing up and I was proud.
So, there we were, first day of school. The teacher was about to lead the line of kids inside to their classroom. A mother stood next to me with sunglasses on, nose red, sniffling, holding her younger child and staring longingly at her older child.
"Don't worry, honey," her husband comforted. "He's going to be fine."
I felt a small pang of sadness and looked over at my first born. And then she waved to me. Suddenly, that timid, unsure smile cracked wide open.
"Bye, honey! Have so much fun today!"
And that's how I left her. As I walked away -- no red nose, no tears -- I smiled.