Today I will walk you up the hill to the neighbourhood public school. I will take you into the gymnasium, where you and all of the other kindergartners will be counted and slotted into classes. Over the next few days we will meet with your teacher and visit your classroom. We will gather your supplies and label everything with your name. And then very soon I will walk you up that hill and leave you there to learn.
Of course, learning is not somehow set aside for a public school classroom. But that, dear child, is another topic for another day.
Today I feel as if I am turning you over to our larger community. These first 5 1/2 years of your life have not been spoken for. No one has had a claim on you except for me, and your father, and our family. You have belonged wholly to us, and we have belonged wholly to you. And we were responsible for finding our way together.
We have found our way together very well. Mostly. Of course there were bumps along the way. This is the sorrow of being the firstborn child – a sorrow your father and I know very well. You are always the one laying the groundwork for those who come after. But you are also the model, the doted-on first grandchild, the trailblazer finding her own way. No one will label you “so-and-so’s little sister”, evaluating you based on an older sibling before they’ve even met you. It’s not all bad, even the parts where your father and I had no idea what we were doing with you, and you had no idea what you were doing with us.
Now we have found our way to the beginning of formal education, and we have to hope that we have equipped you sufficiently for the wider world that you will grow into. This, my daughter, is the world that will be yours one day, for better or worse. You will inherit the amazing beauty, the overpowering wonder, the many ways that we have interfered with and ruined it. You will bear the consequences, good and bad, for our actions. This is how life works. Just as I inherited a world from my own parents and grandparents, you will inherit one from yours.
I hope that you will not descend too deeply into the fallacy that we who have made this world are to blame for all of your problems. We all must work with what we’re given, and laying blame when our share is not what we would hope it to be helps no one. The secret is not what you start with, it’s what you finish with, and how you behave along the way. I hope you will behave well, because I am your mother, after all. Also, always remember to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.
When I send you to school, I will do so with the knowledge that you will never be fully mine again. You don’t belong just to your family anymore. We no longer lay claim to all that you are. We will continue to love and guide you, and you will always be our daughter. We will not stop loving you ever, no matter what. But we are handing you over to yourself in a new way. You are learning to steer your own ship, and as you do we relinquish the wheel with hearts that are both heavy and glad. That is what it means to be your parents.
We can’t wait to see where you sail. Please send photos and letters from your journeys, will you?