There are a very few rites of life that if you do them perfectly, correctly, consciously, and with love and effort, you are rewarded with loss.
The first day of school: if you’ve been doing your job right, the love of your life will smile, kiss you goodbye, say "Bye, Mom!” and scamper away.
She won’t need you anymore.
At least for two hours, twice a week.
It’s a happiness that hurts. You know it means all good things: your child feels comfortable enough in their skin, in their world, in the company of friendly strangers and strange friends, in their expectation that you will return, promptly and smiley, to pick them up and carry their Dora the Explorer backpack home.
“Did you like school?”
But when she chirped “Bye, Mom!” so quickly and scampered away, hot tears backed into your eyes. They didn’t spill over so much. You knew it was a good, happy, sad pang.
My daughter has always been a 10 on the 1-to-10 extroversion scale, so I never expected her to cry on the first day of school, or the day I left her at the daycare at the gym, or with a new babysitter. In fact, on the rare occasions when we leave her with a sitter, she unceremoniously ushers me and my husband out the door.
"You go out Daddy. Anna stay here, play Sarah!" She urges us toward the front door. Did I mention that she's bossy, too?
I've always appreciated the benefits of having an outgoing child. Less snotty-face-to-shoulder, limb-to-limb extractions upon departures, more running through the streets skipping and saying hello to strangers.
I guess I can credit my husband, since even though as an adult I've learned to temper my inherent introverted ways with a relatively easy sociability or at least the ability to fake it well 75 percent of the time as I was a different breed of a kid.
Instead of my daughter's happiness to constantly ping from party to activity to friend's house to park to zoo to craft time to another, differently-themed, party, I was content to stay home and draw, and read. I probably only emerged to forage for food and sleep. Even now, I'd prefer to have a productive, quiet weekday at home, working on the computer while Anna plays happily next to me.
But that's not what happens, of course. Anna wants to play with someone else, and there is only one someone there, and that's me. An hour of playing people --"Hi!" "Hi" "HI!"--is enough to make me second-guess the importance of pretend play for kids learning about social interactions and the adult world. Who needs to learn all that anyway?
Anna must, because her interest in people is endless, and I'm just her necessary vehicle, carting her from one situation containing interesting people to the next. It's tiring for a misanthrope for me, but it's my job, every day, 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.: custodian of that rare, special variety of social butterfly that is my child.
Except, that is, for those two hours twice a week.