My first memories of dropping our daughter — and oldest child — off at preschool revolve around her screaming "Mommy, Mommy," as I walked out the door. She was a toddler and I was returning to work full time. I would wait in the hall for her to calm down, wondering if my heart would break.
In retrospect, the crying didn't last long, but at the time it seemed to last for hours. After I dropped her off, I would watch as the teacher distracted her with some activity or another, and the crying subsided. Only then would I take a deep breath and head to work. Each day, it took her less time for her to calm down, and soon she was glad to be dropped off in a fun, interesting environment. She would smile as I left for the day.
When my work was done, I would rush to pick her up, probably gladder to see her than she was to see me. As she grew older, some days at school were better than others. Most days were good — she had teachers who cared for her as a person, but pushed her to learn fun arts-and-craft activities that I would not be patient enough to do at home, meeting her best friend in kindergarten.
When she attended grammar school, she rode the bus to and from school. I still remember the day that the substitute bus driver passed our stop without dropping her off — she eventually made it home, exhausted, but OK. Then there were the numerous occasions when a bully in her class kicked her on the stairwell between classrooms. The resolution involved numerous meetings with the school administrators and constant vigilance on the part of her teacher, but it, too, was resolved.
Her middle school years were relatively uneventful, at least at school. With her grandfather running in the presidential primary, there was the overhead noise of national media, and occasional trips to such exotic locales as the Iowa State Fair or South Carolina. Having been warned about the drama of middle school, especially for girls, I asked her about it one day when picking her up from middle school. Her response, "we have enough drama in our family already." Smart girl.
Thought I had been warned that the start of high school often resulted in a tossup of social groups; instead it was more of an expansion period. Her circle of friends grew from single digits to double digits. Her school work became more strenuous and voluminous and there was an ongoing effort to do everything that had to be done.
These years have also involved learning to drive, working her first job (and loving it!) and traveling with friends. Her passion for cooking has become evident, and her first thought upon hearing that a friend has bad news is to ask: What can I cook for them? Her loving, compassionate spirit is more obvious, and she is amazingly aware and comfortable with who she is . . . especially for a high school senior.
As a friend who met her this week remarked, she has a presence. That she does. While she may be just 5 feet three inches (ish), she comes across as much taller and commanding.
This week she started her senior year in high school. Even before the first day of class, the school year had begun: senior pictures, college application workshop, cheer camp, summer reading and homework due the first day in three of her classes. The day before classes began, her friends gathered to decorate backpacks and eat Chinese food, Goldfish crackers and M&Ms.
In a year, (or less) depending on where she attends college, she will be out of the house, and (somewhat) on her own. While many of the senior parents that I talked to this morning at the assembly were nostalgic and a bit sad, I'm excited for her and her friends. There is so much for them to learn, to experience, to participate in.
My goal is to savor every minute of the year. While I cannot make the year last longer, perhaps if I pay more attention, remember more details and immerse myself in the experience of her last year at home, I will have a larger set of memories to draw upon for reflection, which I will inevitably do once she moves on. At least until she comes back to visit and we make new memories to share.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.