Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where did the baby go?

I find that the changing of the school years often says more about my children's growth and progress than even their birthdays.  As I pack them up and send them off on the first day in September, a flurry of first days replays in my mind, and I wonder, who ARE these kids in front of me!?  They are growing up so fast.

Today, I sent my daughter off to 6th grade.  My memories of 6th grade were bittersweet.  I loved my elementary school.  School was always a safe haven for me.  The teachers were wonderful, and my ever thirsty mind was always satisfied within those brick walls.  There was, however, my parents impending divorce, my mother showing up drunk at my 6th grade graduation, and the trepidation of simply becoming a teenager and heading off to junior high. 

As I watched my daughter carefully picking out her clothes, fixing her hair, and packing her lunch, I was reminded of my favorite book as a child.  I must have made my Grandma read it to me until she was hoarse!  I still have the book, its pages are worn and you can see the spot in the front where I wrote my name in that little box in the front cover that is a trademark of Little Golden Books.  The book is the story of a child who finds a picture of a baby wearing a hat, and her mother sends her in search of the baby throughout the house, until, upon gazing into a mirror the girl realizes that she IS the baby, just now grown.  *sigh* How I loved that book.

Remembering that story, I had to ask myself on more than one level, where DID the baby go?

First, where did my own baby daughter go?  Where is that pudgy, curly haired, wide eyed baby who was simply a curious joy?  She always wanted to look and see and touch and do.  In many ways, she still does, but cautiousness from my many warnings to "be careful!" or "watch what you're doing!" have stolen some of that toddler tenacity.  The "cool" factor comes into play now as well - of course it is important to fit in, right?  Straightening her HAIR?  Wasn't she just wearing pigtails and losing her front teeth?  Wasn't she just clinging to my leg at the door of preschool? 

As I pondered those pigtails, I remembered my own.  Not curly and bouncy like my baby girl's, but straight and often crooked, sliding out of my thin hair.  I remember climbing into my Gram's lap in her "big chair" and hearing the familiar creak as she rocked me and read that book again and again.  Where did THAT baby go?  Where did the easy days of reading stories and playing dress up and being taken care of GO?  When did I become the GROWN UP with babies of my own?

As I gaze into the rear view mirror as we back out on the driveway to head to school, I see my daughter's excited, smiling face.  At the same time, I catch a glimpse of my own face staring back at me.  I realized right then, I know where both babies went, and we see it in the reflection in each other's eyes. Just as the little girl in the book said to her mother as she ran into her arms, "I'm right here!"