There are moments in life that you think you’re ready for…..until they actually happen. One of those moments came for me this morning.
As I awoke just past 6:30, after what felt like a sleepless night as visions of the past six years swirled around my brain for hours, feelings of both happiness and sadness overwhelmed me as I prepared myself for this monumental day. As it was their weekend at their mother’s, my almost six-year-old twin daughters did not stay with me last night, which always makes for a tough morning anyway, but I knew that I’d see them soon enough. As I tell myself every morning they’re not with me, I pleaded with myself to keep it together. It’s difficult to wake up and not hear them playing, laughing or getting right in my face as I try to squeeze in that last minute of sleep saying “Daddy, I’m hungry”, and today really was no different. Except that it was. You see, today was Ashlyn and Brooklyn’s first day of kindergarten.
As I went through my “the girls aren’t with me” morning routine, which is obviously a little different than when they are there, I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to cry today. In the four years (actually almost to the day) that I’ve been apart from their mother, I’ve cried too much. I tell my girls not to use the word “hate”, but I truly hate the feeling of not having my daughters with me, even when it’s only one of the little two-day stretches that they’re away. With 50/50 custody, sometimes it’s only the two days that they’re gone and sometimes it’s five. Either way, it really hurts. However, one of the luxuries and the biggest reason why I chose to do what it is I do is that I’m able to play a big part in my daughters’ daily activities, which includes taking them to and picking them up from school on my assigned days. I did it for the last year and a half they were in preschool and that was the itinerary this morning. Get up. Get ready. Get the girls and get some Kleenex because I absolutely lost it.
As I made the twenty-minute drive to pick them up from a sitter that watches them occasionally when the ex-wife can’t be with them in the morning (she’s a school teacher in the same district so it was her first day as well), a lifetime, albeit the lifetime of two five-year-olds, of memories came crashing into me like ocean waves into a rock. And I’m the rock in this analogy simply because the waves of memories got my face wet as the tears began to trickle down my cheeks in the car as “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” played on the radio. If you know the song, then you know exactly how gut-wrenching it can be. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that my daughters fought and fought to grow after being born 11 weeks early?
I guess not. And wasn’t it just yesterday that after 44 days in the NICU, they decided that they couldn’t be apart even for a day and decided to come home together? Wasn’t it just their first Christmas? Didn’t they just celebrate their first birthday?
It’s still not then either, huh? Okay. Well, then didn’t they just start walking and talking? Didn’t I just cry when I heard “Daddy” for the first time? Or watch as they innocently saw their entire world turn upside down as our family fell apart right around the time they turned two? That all just happened, right?
Still no? Then surely they must have just started developing their own personalities and counting and doing the alphabet as they bravely adapted to a back-and-forth lifestyle after Mommy and Daddy got divorced, correct? Didn’t they just turn three?
Okay, I’ve got it now. These tears can’t be due to their first day of kindergarten. They’re just starting preschool, aren’t they?
Or just turn four?
Alright, now I’m really getting frustrated. If all of that has already happened, there is absolutely, positively no way that in the last year that Ashlyn and Brooklyn started a second year of preschool, turned five, finished preschool altogether, started picking out books with me to read on their own, zipped through an entire summer and are ready to start kindergarten. Because I really don’t know if I’m ready for that.
And I wasn’t ready. But they sure were. As I pulled up to the house, they were standing at the front door waiting for me excited as could be. The familiar sound of “Daddy”, which will never get old, rang out as I hit the walkway and they eagerly put on their shoes, grabbed their backpacks and we were out the door. In the ten minutes in between the house and the school, I just asked them questions.
“Are you excited?”
“Are you nervous?”
“What happened to my little girls?”
The last one confused them for about a millisecond but they’re so smart that they knew exactly what I was saying. They were excited. They were nervous. But “we’re big girls now because we’re in kindergarten.”
And they were right. My girls are growing up and no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop it. As much as I’d like to just bottle them up today and keep them this age forever, an age where I’m their favorite person in the world (I’m sure they say that to Mommy too when they’re with her) and their innocence is still intact, I know I can’t. Sure, today may just be the start of kindergarten, but with the way things have already gone, tomorrow will be the start of grade school and the day after that they’ll be graduating from high school. They may not realize it just yet, but the real world essentially starts for them today. Schedules will be different. Focus will be different. For at least the next 13 years (at the end of which I’ll be 50), the ups and downs that come with going through school will take center stage in this little production we call life. And once the smoke clears and the dust has settled, I know that everything will be just fine. They’re good kids and with everything they’ve already gone through in their young lives, they’ve proven that they have the strength to get through anything….even going to a public school in Pekin, Illinois. And the greatest thing is that no matter what, they have each other to rely on when things get tough.
As for me, I think I’ll be okay as well. I knew today would be emotional and as I drove away from the school, I’m not going to pretend that a few more tears didn’t flow. After seeing their entire life play out in my head this morning, I kinda figured that might happen. Or maybe it’s knowing that every day they get older, I get older. Or maybe it’s just because now I don’t have anybody to play with during the day. What I also know is that as each day passes, I only love them more. And I know that whether it’s the day they were born, their first day of kindergarten, the day they graduate, the day they get married or the day they become parents themselves, they’ll always be my little girls.