Illustration: Erin McPhee
I probably shouldn’t be surprised that my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sophie, lines up all her dolls and stuffies to play school, where she instructs her students in writing and colouring in a bossy voice until she deems it’s time for recess. (That’s usually when she comes to ask for a snack.) I was exactly the same. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of watching my brother walk up the street to school, my hands pressed against the glass of the screen door, sobbing because I couldn’t go too.
Like I was, Sophie’s so ready for kindergarten. And I’m so not. But I try to comfort myself with the thought that at least maybe her “threenager” temper tantrums will become fewer and further between once the classroom rules are in place and there’s a new sheriff…er, teacher…in town.
Despite the pangs I feel about Sophie growing up, I’ve already been indulging her classroom yearnings for almost a year. I want her to love school. I want her to be excited and confident when she steps onto the playground. But I also want her to understand that the expectations of her will be different.
I don’t mean that she has to make perfect grades (do they even get grades in junior kindergarten?) or be able to recite “The Road Not Taken” by the end of the first week (though I wouldn’t complain if she could!). I just mean that she needs to get on board to do big-kid stuff: She has to stop fighting with us so much about brushing her teeth and hair, and she needs to get dressed without throwing herself on the floor in a whiny heap each morning.
We’re working on these things now, but she skews baby and wails (we’re talking face-distorting, open-mouthed crying) when it suits her. I figure the more enthusiastic we act about school, the more easily she’ll adjust to the new world order on both the school and home fronts.
I came to this conclusion a couple of months ago when I found a deep-sectioned plate, a little like a bento box. I explained to Sophie that she would be taking her lunch to school in September, and that we could practise with this “lunch box” for the next few months. On the weekends, I load it up with her favourites—cheese, crackers, berries, orange segments, grapes, salami or summer sausage, cucumber and carrots (which she eats if we’re really lucky; “one bite to be polite” is sometimes all she manages). She sits at a little table in the living room, munching away and watching Peppa Pig.
The first time we did this, I stood in the doorway and watched her: little tendrils falling from her ponytail; eyes sparkling as she giggled at something George Pig said; her smile when she caught me looking at her. She’s becoming a kid—losing the baby softness, the chubby cheeks and tubby belly I love so much.
But along with the preschooler attitude I could stand a little less of also comes delight and wonder at the smallest things, a fierceness in how she loves and a maturity in the way she patiently endures her baby sister’s grabby fists, slobbery kisses and penchant for pulling hair. If I close my eyes, I can picture Sophie at nine, at 12, at 18, at 25. It breaks my heart every time she does something I didn’t know she could do, and I feel like, starting this fall, her childhood is all going to be over in a blink.
I just want to bottle up a little of how she is right now, so I don’t forget. But I also can’t wait for toned-down reactions to minor inconveniences—like maybe the pink shirt that’s actually clean will be OK instead of the purple one on the laundry room floor. I also can’t wait for the day when she brings me a card signed in her own printing, or pictures where people have bodies and not just legs growing from their faces.
I’ll put the pretend lunch box away soon, when she gets her big-girl one. And I’ll dig it out in a few years when my youngest, Juliette, does the same thing to me, all over again.
This piece was originally published online in August 2015.