Yesterday was the first day of Uber-Princess's second year of preschool. I expected it to be the same-old, same-old, even though I told her to expect it to be different. It was different. She was in the same room with one of the same teachers as last year and a few of the same kids. But instead of sixteen kids and two teachers there were only eight kids and one teacher. Smaller, quieter. No long hug goodbye this year, just a little wave. Instead of skipping out to my car without looking back, I shuffled slowly with many little glances over my shoulder. For a couple of hours I was going to miss my little princess.
The trip to Panera felt the same but different too. Different day, different crowd. Ah, but the red-haired retired man in his neat polo, khaki shorts and loafers was there as usual. The cinnamon bagel tasted the same, but cost more. My regular spot was open, but I went to a table next to an outlet for the first time instead. This year I reveled in the bittersweet taste of freedom, but only briefly, before setting to my tasks.
Last year I was a mom new to those hours without children. I felt like I would get lost in the expanse of free time. Now I know all too well the tightness of their boundaries. I am familiar with where they end. Like many moms, that first year I moved more into the space than would fit. This year it's still cramped and crowded, but I can make my way around to what I need. I see that the space has expanded - just a little. And I wonder if it's enough to move in the things outside the door yet. Or must they wait for next year?
A few hours later, I leave my space, my heart a little lighter. I go back to collect my little princess who grabs my hand tight and looks intently into my face as she shows me the baby dolls and dress-up clothes in her classroom. I pick her up and carry her out of the room, enjoying the little hands wrapped around my neck. I savor being with her. And later that evening as her father tells how she ran out to tell him in a breathy voice that "Keeevvvinn" was in her class again, I chuckle. Already the space is becoming more comfortable again - different, but comfortable.