As I was tucking her into bed last week, I asked her how it was going. And her exact words were: “All we do is learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. It’s so boring! I wish that I could just go back to Kindergarten!”
Kindergarten, mind you, was where my daughter learned to read, write, add, subtract, and, more importantly, improve many of the social skills that she needs to thrive.
Needless to say, there was plenty of learning going on.
But first grade is decidedly different. While she is grieving that there is no free-choice time and (gasp) very limited marker use for her magnificent drawings, I am grieving, too.
I am grieving all the fitting in that she will need to do.
This is my daughter who still tapes or glues cat ears and unicorn horns to her headbands.
She believes that fairies are all around us and that the little glimmers we see on the sidewalks are remnants of their magical dust from the previous evening.
This is my daughter who still has trouble walking with her hands by her side, because she wants to touch – to feel – to explore – everything.
And when her art teacher tells her the precise way to fold a piece of paper (with the corners matching up), she wonders why she needs to be “perfect” when art is not about getting it right or wrong.
She is not a typical, first-born, rule-following child.
In fact, she informed me on her first day of camp that she met a new friend and happily educated her on the “proper” names for her female parts, since her new friend wasn’t yet aware.
Yes, that daughter.
And while she sometimes pushes me beyond my limits, it’s her spirit – the way that she dances to the beat of her own maraca – I so adore.
It’s what makes her, her.
And so, I’m scared.
I’m scared that she will need to set aside too much of her wildness too soon.
I’m scared that she’ll need to contain her crazy ideas and silly enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity, and instead do letter drills and number stations and simple worksheets that may bore her.
I’m scared that all of the preparation for the arbitrary tests will quell her love for learning and the enthusiasm she’s had – up until now – every day for school.
I’m scared that all of the no-talking, hands-to-yourself, sit-straight, be-still will weigh heavily upon her small shoulders.
Because, really, she’d rather dance with the fairies.
I have little doubt that she’ll follow the rules and work hard and earn the praise of her teachers.
And I’m scared that it will dim her light.
I know that, as an advocate of my daughter, I can help make things better for her as she navigates these elementary years. But there is also a sadness that goes deeper than any of those fears and concerns I hold about the education system at large.
It’s about releasing my spirited child into the world, over and over again. And some years feel like greater leaps – a greater letting go – than others.
Because, really, I’d prefer to keep her tucked beneath my wing – lovingly and safely – for just a little while longer.
But I can’t.
And so every day, I walk her to the door of her classroom and kiss her goodbye. And when I walk away, I whisper a silent prayer: Please be good to her, world.
She is my fairy. And she needs her wings to fly.