My daughter grew up today. A few short weeks ago, she had her third birthday. Then today she just grew up. Blam. I took her to her first Kinder-Gym class — it's the first level where the parents sit on the sidelines and let their critters go do their thing without Mom or Dad right there beside them.
So there I sat in the chair, while my baby went off to her first official activity without Mom. She frowned back at me once as she walked off to join the other kids — not an, "I need my mommy" frown, just an, "Are you sure this isn't going to result in litigation?" frown. After their stretches, she came over to give me a quick hug. Then that was it. She had things to do, friends to meet, a mortgage to pay, grandchildren of her own, and who was that strange woman sitting over there clutching a stuffed toy and blubbering? Mommy who?
Watching her on her own for the first time was nerve wracking. I've spent the last three years straight doing nothing but protect her (criminals are dangerous! strangers are dangerous! friends and family are dangerous! the really sick people are the ones you least expect! trust no one! don't even trust yourself!), train her (use your napkin! say please and thank you! aim for the groin, then run!) and discipline her (get that out of your mouth! don't sit on kitty! don't kick your daddy and run!). Just last week I was grumbling about how much I'll get done when she finally goes off to school.
Now here I am, sitting faaaaar across the room, watching her take all the things she's learned so far and try them out on her own.
Omigod, we were going to get kicked out and banished from the gymnastics place forever!!
I could tell I wasn't the only one terrified about how horrible my pre-schooler might act. The parents waiting were divided into two groups: rookies like me who winced and held our breaths every time our kids were asked to do something, and experienced hands who snored gently as they made optimum use of that thirty minutes of peace and quiet.
My daughter made it through the whole session without incident. There were no tantrums of epic proportion. She didn't start any brawls with the other kids. She didn't break any furniture, start any fires, cause any structural damage or create any explosions. There were no riots, no blunt traumas, no psychoses, no climate changes, no irreparable damage to the local ecosystems.
In fact, she was good. Really good. All the little kids were.
We rookie-mommies were discovering what the experienced mothers already knew: our kids were capable of interacting politely, listening, learning and having fun on their own. Without Mom or Dad right there to make it happen for them.
"Here," said one of the experienced moms as she handed me a paper bag. "Breathe into this. You'll feel better."
Beside me, a new mother had picked up my daughter's stuffed bear and was talking to it. "Here, sit in this chair. Say 'hi' to the nice ladies. It's okay, you can say hello!"
"Augh!" screamed another greenhorn, trying to rush toward where the kids were doing just fine on their own. "My little Tina needs me!!" We held her until she calmed down.
When class was over, the little ones came back to us to get their shoes and the gymnastics instructor came over, beaming a smile. "Everyone did so good today! You all deserve stickers. Which one do you want? Go ahead, pick one! No, I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith, you only get one sticker, but I bet if your daughter brings you back next week, you can earn another one."
I picked a Martha Stewart sticker. The front has a picture of draperies with a nice valance and says, "It's a good thing." I also got a poster to put my stickers on. Every time I do well, I get another sticker to put on the poster. "Baby's first activity away from Mommy" wasn't too bad, but when I looked down to where it says, "Baby gets her driver's license" and "Help Baby plan wedding," I burst into tears.
"Don't worry," said the gymnastics instructor to my daughter as she handed me a balloon to help me stop crying. "They're always like this the first week."
Comments and methods for stopping the passage of time to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the June 19, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.