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The regimented nature of that initial drop off helped keep my emotional fragility in check while I was inside the classroom. It wasn't until I stepped back into the hallway and headed home without her that the reality of the situation became clear. Our year together had ended; she was now a real-life student.
My wife had taken the day off from work, and together we spent the next 7 hours puttering around the house wondering what our girl was doing at 10:13, how lunch was going inside the huge gymnasium at 12:18, and what she was learning at exactly 1:25. We spoke of the love we share for our daughter and marveled at who she had become. I was moved to tears by my pride in her smarts, grace, maturity and kindness, but the biggest tears were reserved for more selfish reasons. I missed her.
It took only four days to go from an in-person homeroom drop-off to a nice, casual curbside farewell. Now I was the only one with the separation anxiety. Strolling into the school had stretched out our goodbyes and I needed that extra time a lot more than she did. My younger daughter, too, was crushed when her big sister no longer needed us to escort her into school. Instead, the older one kissed me, hugged her sister, slung her pink and yellow Little Miss Sunshine backpack over both shoulders, and walked away. My two-year-old freaked out. Her outward expression of grief embodied my internal struggle to let go.
As much as the little one's tantrum exposed my emotional weakness, at home it was an alternate universe. My two-year-old's presence lessened the blow, numbing the back-to-school sting. When she saunters around in her sister's feather boas and her mother's slippers while singing songs in gibberish, it almost makes me forget that I have another child in school. Almost.
My youngest daughter is helping to make this transition easier, but being a stay-at-home dad made the back-to-school season more emotionally challenging. If I were still going off to work each day, I would probably be more conditioned for that daily drop-off. The extra tears are a fair trade, though, for the year we had at home, side by side.
It'll be three more years before I have to go through this again, when my younger daughter begins kindergarten, and it begs the question: Will I still be a stay-at-home dad then, or will I simply be...alone?
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