“Wait! Can we try that again? I wasn’t ready.”
These are the words I want engraved on my tombstone someday. I feel like they sum up my life more accurately, if less sentimentally, than “Loving wife and mother.”
I’ve just returned home from dropping my oldest off at her first day of middle school, so hopefully the need for a tombstone is a long way off, but it seems as good a time as any to reflect back on my life thus far.
My daughter is definitely ready for middle school. She’s spent the last few days organizing school supplies, filling her binder, and planning her first-day outfit and hairstyle. As I helped with that hairstyle this morning, I ran my fingers through her long hair, envying her thick curls and youthful glossy locks. Ah to be almost 12 again. Oh no wait, that really wasn’t my favorite stage of life. I actually remember my first day of middle school. I remember wondering what the big deal was. I had changed schools (and even countries!) before and figured this really couldn’t be much different. Well, I was wrong. I’ll spare you all my middle school memories, because you have enough trauma in your own life. But back to the point, she is definitely ready for whatever life throws at her. As ready as she’ll ever be.
Isn’t that a funny phrase? “As ready as I’ll ever be.” I’ve had plenty of moments in life where that phrase accurately describes my condition. On the eve of my wedding. In the last few days of my first pregnancy. Holding my babies’ hands as we walked to their first days of kindergarten. It’s a particular irony to me that the biggest things in life cannot be completely prepared for. You become ready as you live through them. I want to go back, after 15 years of marriage now, and say “Yes. I am ready to be married.” But you don’t get the 15 years first. Instead you take a deep breath, say a desperate prayer, and as you step off that ledge, you hope whatever you’ve learned so far in life will allow you to become ready to land as you fall.
Something about watching her walk away from the car brings me back to the summer after I graduated high school. My best friends and I kept saying to each other, “We’re not old enough for this yet,” as we prepared to go our separate ways to colleges. I kept thinking there must be some mistake. I was about to go from being totally dependent (despite my emphatic claims to the contrary) on my parents, to being completely on my own, hundreds of miles away from anyone I knew. One thing I knew for sure was that I was NOT ready for that. But when the day came, sure enough there I was, standing on the front lawn of my new dorm, waving as my family drove away.
Much like my daughter waved at me as she got out of the car at her new school today. She gave me a brave smile, but she had The Big Eyes. Do you know what I mean by that? You know that deer-in-the-headlights look you get when you are simultaneously trying not to cry, while taking in the flood of information about your new surroundings? Ever since she was a tiny little girl with big brown eyes, we’ve taken to calling it that. I wanted to throw the car in park right there in the middle of the drop-off lane and get out, hug her, and walk her into school. I’d go to classes with her, just to make sure she found her way around. I’d trail her down the hallway, making sure no mean girls looked at her funny. I’d go to her first choir class, just to hear her sweet voice singing.
But I didn’t do any of that. I just gave her a big smile, flashed a double thumbs up, and told her to have a great day. Pretty sure I had the big eyes too, but I’m hoping she didn’t notice.
As I watched her walk to the crosswalk, the cars started to move and I had to pull away and turn before I could see her get safely into the building. Stopping just wasn’t an option with dozens of other cars behind me, so I slowly pulled out of the parking lot, while trying to look for her in the rear-view mirror and merge into traffic at the same time. I couldn’t find her in the sea of other kids but I had to drive away anyway. The thought burst into my head, “I wasn’t ready!”
I wasn’t ready for elementary school to be over. (Did you know there’s no playground at middle schools?) I wasn’t ready for her to be so independent. (I don’t even know if she made it to class!) I wasn’t ready to turn away and let her become her own person, without even watching her go.
And I realized as I was driving home, that this is what I want to say about my life as a mother so far…
Wait! Can we try that again? I wasn’t ready.