Little shoes, little clothes and a huge Mickey Mouse backpack. She is ready to go to school. We get in the car and already I feel a little sad because she will not be with me today. I won’t hear her little laugh and see that priceless smile. I won’t have any owies to fix or hugs to give. I won’t have my little girl sitting on my lap listening to a story or two. We won’t be snuggling in front of a TV show or having a little snack together.
We drive the few miles to school. She tells me about her new friends at school as we hold hands… that precious little hand. I drive extra slow so this moment will last as long as possible. But finally we arrive and I stop the car for her to jump out. She is full of excitement but my heart hurts. She says, “Bye Daddy, I love you” and my heart melts. Tears begin to well up in my eyes as she turns to walk away. I can’t leave even though I am blocking other cars. I can’t take my foot off the brake. All I can do is watch my little girl as she lackadaisically strolls toward the school past the playground. The further away she gets the more my heart hurts. I want to yell her name and take her in my arms. I want her to come running back so we can both go home and spend the day together. I want summer back.
Then she slows. I see an uncertainty in her step. She slowly looks back to see if I am still there. Her hand raises uncertainly. Is she waving or beckoning to me? But she turns and continues on only to stop again and turn. Now I see concern in her face. She hesitates and takes one faltering step toward the car. It is all I can do to stay where I am. I want to run to her so badly. She stands there looking at me. Can she see the tears rolling down my cheeks? I brush them away not wanting her to be concerned. She starts to walk toward school again but stops quickly and now takes a few steps back toward me. I can see something is wrong so I wave to her to come back. Now she is running with her huge backpack bouncing along. I try to hide my tears as she makes it to the car. “Daddy, I don’t see anyone I know and I am scared”. “Get in sweetheart, I will walk you into school”.
She still needs me.
That is all I can think. For at least one more moment, she still needs me. I quickly park reassuring her that all is well. We then get out and walk hand in hand toward the school. I am thrilled to enjoy a few more moments with her. It is all I can do to keep from really breaking down right there in the schoolyard. I wait with her, talking about all the fun she will have and what we will do after school. Now the bell rings. She is once again comfortable after spotting several friends. A quick hug and she is gone. I find myself standing in a sea of children running and laughing around me. But all I can see is a big Mickey Mouse backpack bouncing away from me and again I feel my heart swelling within me.
As I walk back to the car I have to take a wide route as I can no longer hide my tears. I miss her so much. I ache to be around her. I curse the season that took her away from me. But I am so proud of her. She is in second grade. Growing so fast and doing so much. She loves life and is happy. I am so happy for her. With every passing minute, she needs me less. And that is exactly how it should be. It is my greatest success.
But for one more moment, it was really nice to be needed.