It's that time of summer. The kids' worn, faded bathing suits are ready to retire to the back of the dresser, beside the bunny ears and St. Patty's Day shirts. Tiny hooded sweatshirts begin lining the kids' cubbies at camp. Plans for barbecues and picnics slowly fade into visions of apple-picking, notebooks, and Tarantino-inspired tactics for grabbing that last Frozen backpack at Target.
But this year, something is different. My daughter, my "baby" girl, is heading off to kindergarten. No more will I drop her off at the local YMCA for a few leisurely hours of circle time, finger-painting and arguments over who gets the baby doll whose head hasn't been pulled off. These are the big leagues: language arts, science, math... lunch from a tray instead of a brown paper bag.
And yet, as excited as I am for her, I'm nervous too. You see, I think my daughter is pretty much perfect the way she is (tantrums over "needing" to wear her Elsa tiara to camp aside). She's funny, imaginative and most of all, open to everyone she meets. The real world has a way of stifling these traits -- of hardening even the tenderest of little hearts.
And so, as my daughter marches off to that big, yellow school bus, here are the 5 things I hope she won't be learning at kindergarten this year.
1. People are mean.
Yes, this includes 5-year-olds. My daughter attended afternoon pre-K last year, riding the bus home with kindergartners. I was amazed at the conversations she'd report back to me. It was as though she had suddenly flipped a switch from Sesame Street to Mean Girls. From taunts about toys to one boy's plans to someday get a gun (after learning how to tie his shoes, of course), it was a glimpse into a brave new world for my baby. My heart breaks when I envision the girls who won't play with her at recess, or the little boys who used to be her friends who no longer want to share their Legos or time with a girl. I wish I could be there by her side, shielding her from every cruel word or rejection. Instead, Mommy must remain at home, silently plotting the downfall of that girl who called my daughter's doll ugly.
2. She can be mean.
My daughter has yet to discover her power to hurt others -- to use words to injure, to exclude, to bully. I hope that she'll always be this sweet and good-natured. But as we all know, when kids get together, play is not always nice. Short of having the Golden Rule tattooed on her forehead (where she couldn't see it, anyway), all I can do is trust her to remember the kindness and respect we teach and (try to) practice at home.
3. There are wrong ways of doing things.
There's no place like preschool. As long as you don't run with scissors or whack anyone over the head with your juice box, you pretty much can do no wrong. Draw a red squiggle on a piece of construction paper; it gets hung up on the wall. Paint a three-legged princess with a green face; you're "creative." When my daughter gets to kindergarten, she'll be faced with the notion that there are right answers, wrong ways of solving problems. That she needs to color in the lines. Kindergarten marks an entry into more standardized ways of thinking about and solving problems. I'm not sure I'm ready for this first check on her previously unbounded imagination.
4. Other kids have more.
Don't get me wrong; my kids have plenty of stuff. But they don't have designer clothes or pricey playthings. My daughter tends to parade around in the same favorite dress, and I've given up buying expensive toys that my kids break five minutes after opening the box (especially since they generally prefer to play with the box). As my daughter's social circle expands, she's bound to notice that she doesn't have an American Girl doll, or that she spent her spring break playing soccer instead of waiting three hours to meet Elsa at Disney World. And she'll have questions. We'll probably explain that we have everything we need right here. Or, we'll distract her with a spontaneous viewing of My Little Pony. But I know her questions will only get harder, and it'll be our job to explain to a kid who just wants an iPad what real abundance is all about.
5. Mommy is not the center of the world.
Until now, my daughter has wanted to do everything with Mommy. From playtime to story time, we've been inseparable companions -- at times the tightest of allies; others, the bitterest of foes. But lately I'm starting to notice a subtle shift. Lately, she's been wanting to play with her friend next door, disappearing for hours at a time with her princess gown and wand, enjoying games with no role for Mommy. Soon she'll be at kindergarten, making new friends, broadening her world, getting sucked into lunchroom scandals and playground intrigues. When she comes home and I prod her for the sordid details of kindergarten life, I can look forward to her informative response: "I don't know, Mommy. Got any food?"
Starting kindergarten is a special milestone in both our lives. I know my little girl is going to love it, and I know she's ready. I'm a little less ready. But I guess it's all part of motherhood: letting go, embracing the daily adventures and perils of growing up. I suppose I just have to remember that no matter what goes on all day at school -- which girl won't share her doll, or which new word she stumbles over -- at the end of the day, that big, wonderful yellow bus will arrive, to take my baby home to the mother who loves her.
This post originally appeared on the blog Mommy A to Z. Follow Mommy A to Z on Facebook and Twitter, and check out the new book Mommy A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the Joys, Wonders, and Absurdities of Motherhood .