My 5-year-old daughter, Roxy, starts Kindergarten in less than a week.
For she, it is the start of a wondrous, fun-filled journey where anxiety and adventure battle for space along with the shiny red apple in her new back-to-school backpack. It is three hours a day of independence - and a mere three blocks from our home - where her count of friends will grow to a small army and our chats on the walk home will have her beautiful face flush with a newfound, tiny taste of fun, freedom and snippets of time she otherwise would have spent with her father. It's the beginning of everything for my girl. So why am I crying in the shower every morning or bubbling up with emotion inside the privacy of my car whenever I'm off on an errand?
My wife, like most moms (especially those with a younger child still at home at the moment and our oldest son commuting to college from home) is over the moon at this. She couldn't get the paperwork done quicker or arrange the physical exams faster to get her off and into a classroom of children her own age. But for me, I can't help but see it as the first step in the slow process of losing somewhat of a grip on my girl. Daughters leave. Sons stay. That's the way I've always seen things from where I sit.
My wife can't get over this drama unfoldig in my head. "She needs friends. She can't just always play with her cousins or stay at home and play with you."
Why not? I've grown to like the unpredictibility of "Sponge Bob, Square Pants," or the laid-back plot lines of "Max & Ruby." Not to mention the tireless adventures of Dora and Diego. Our discussions over the cultural complications on "Ni Hao Kai- Lan" have been epic. And my bold observance that "Yo Gabba-Gabba" is nothing more than a recycled "Zoom" have led discussions well into the night. Plus she finally knows all the names of the New York Yankees.
Does it sound yet to you that I need a life?
You'all might be right. But Roxy's daddy is not a regular 9-to-5er. I've been lucky enough that when I do land a TV job, I go off and work for four days or so and then am able to spend the next 30 days or so at home until the next taping. That means I have been around for every football game and track meet that her big brother has ever had. And I've been fortunate to never miss a new tooth, a scary fall, a high fever, a new word or those God-given moments when your 18-month-old son decides to squeeze his sister tight and plant a kiss on her lips without any proding from me or my wife. It is those gorgeous moments of parenting that you have to see to believe. And once they are gone, you sit back and can't believe you were lucky enough to see them.
Having that time home alone with then is something you can't negotiate in a boardroom at the office or across a Hollywood conference room table as wide as an airplane wing.
"It's just three hours a day," my wife laughs. "She's not going off to Iraq."
I know, I know. But this is my little, best friend we're talking about here. And the hours of 11:37 AM to 2:20 PM will move slow for me. As if the hands on the kitchen clock have come down with Arthritis.
The wife and kid are off buying school clothes now and the little one is asleep. We'll all be with her on that first walk to school next week and every other walk she entitles me to as she grows older and more independent.
My wife laughs. My daughter can't wait. And a proud father cries.
Daughters leave. They go away to school. They date boys and come home with broken hearts until the day she meets the right man and they marry. And then she will adopt his opinions, and maybe even silence her daddy from time to time. She might not even remember that I ever told her that "Yo Gabba-Gabba" is "Zoom" and, in this world, everything old is new again.
Last night she held my cheeks in her hands and said, "Daddy, don't worry. I will only be at school for a little while and then you and Mommy will pick me up and you and I can play. Okay?"
"Okay, doll," I told her.
"Are you crying" she asked me.
"No," I told her. "It's Daddy's allergies."
Then she squeezed me tight and left me alone on my bed, as she and her mommy talked about the new dress she wants to buy for her first day at school.