09/05/2014 12:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What I Learned From My Daughter's First Day of Kindergarten

The big day finally arrived. For weeks, I've been toting around a crumpled list of school supplies, eagerly checking off glue sticks and crayons, desperately hunting for elusive 5-oz. Dixie cups, frantically squeezing in as many mother-daughter pancake breakfasts as possible before that big yellow bus arrived to whisk my daughter away to kindergarten. And today, after all the hopes and expectations, that bus finally came. When my daughter returned from her adventures, proudly donning a sticker proclaiming "I'm a Kindergartner!" I asked her what she learned. "I don't know," she replied, running off to grab a snack. Well, while my daughter may have learned little, Mommy has gleaned several enlightening facts from baby's first day of kindergarten.

1. I'm no longer in the driver's seat. I suppose this can be taken literally. After years of my driving my daughter to the YMCA, she's now riding the bus, making her own way to her overstuffed cubby and miniature chair. But in a broader sense, there's been a relinquishing of control I've had to accept as my daughter has entered the public school system -- and it's been harder than I expected. In the past, I was able to set her schedule, determine the best program for her personality and even drop by her classroom (baby brother in tow) whenever I had a question for her teacher or just wanted to watch her discipline a baby doll. Now, I've stood by helpless as she's been assigned to a teacher I know little about to follow a curriculum I have no say in. Yes, I plan to get involved however I can, but I can't help feeling, for the first time, that when it comes to my daughter's education, I'm on the outside looking in.

2. I'm way behind the other parents. I got to the bus stop 10 minutes early... and apparently I was already late to the party. The bus stop was mobbed with well-dressed (and apparently showered) parents, all armed with professional-looking cameras and handmade signs announcing "Junior's First Day of Kindergarten." I, on the other hand, was armed with a toddler trying to eat a random glue stick that had fallen on the ground. I'm starting to think I'm going to have to up my game if I want to be accepted at the PTA (and avoid becoming "that mom" who's sporting last season's iPhone and whose shirt is on backwards).

3. And yet, everyone is nervous. Looking around, I saw many other parents going through this ritual for the first time, not quite knowing what to expect or how their little ones might handle the big event. I witnessed excited glances, nervous laughter and moments of quiet contemplation -- from both the kids and the adults. And I saw lots of familiar-looking Cars and Tangled backpacks. Because, apparently, we all hit the same sale at Target.

4. I'm not the emotional mess I thought I'd be. Despite all the emails from friends advising me to bring a truckload of Kleenex, I didn't break down when my daughter got on that bus. As I waved goodbye, I felt proud and excited -- and a little nervous that my toddler might pull down my pants in his frantic efforts to get Mommy's attention. As the bus slowly faded out of sight, I picked up my son and joined him in waving and quietly murmuring, "Bye bye, Sis." Deep down, I agreed with him: it was time to wish her the best and let her go -- at least until 11 a.m., when it would be time for early dismissal and several hours of feeding a kindergartner who's apparently starved for food as well as knowledge.

5. My daughter's totally got this. Perhaps the reason I'm so calm is that I know my daughter's ready -- for new challenges, new routines, new 5-year-old frenemies. We've done everything we can to prepare her. We've encouraged her to trust herself -- to jump off that dock at the beach, to build a robot with the "big kids" at science camp, to tentatively knock on a new friend's door and ask her to play. We've read together, we've played together, we've vegged on the couch together. We shown her we trust her to handle the hard truths of life, explaining her grandmother's illness to her and holding each other tight as we said goodbye. And we've shown her the value of not taking life too seriously, always finding new ways to laugh at herself. After all these lessons, I know she's ready to handle this next step with confidence, with grace, and with courage. Indeed, when we picked her up later that day, I saw a little girl who was more grown up than I remembered, a child who had journeyed into the great big world -- on her own, without Mommy by her side.

Overall, this "big day" was probably less eventful than I had spent five years imagining it would be. And while I'm not certain my daughter actually learned anything, it was an education for Mommy that I won't soon forget. Plus, there was ice cream afterwards. And that's always a sign of a good day.


This post originally appeared on the blog Mommy A to Z. Follow Mommy A to Z on Facebook and Twitter.