When my oldest daughter was in preschool, we religiously read the book “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. If you haven’t read it with your little one, it’s about a raccoon named Chester who is afraid to go to school and be away from his mother. To allay his fears, Chester’s mother talk to him about all the wonderful things he will do at school and then kisses Chester’s hand as a sign that she will always be with him no matter where he goes.
As a result, morning and evening kisses became our ritual. When I dropped her off at school in the morning, I would cover my daughter’s palms in kisses, and she would “stick” those kisses in her pockets to carry them with her throughout the day. And in fairness, she gave my hands kisses too so I could keep her with me as we parted ways before she ran into her classroom. We would exchange those same kisses at night before I tucked her into bed. Whenever she felt uncertain or afraid in a new situation, I gave her kisses in her palms to help her be brave. It was our check-in, our connection. It was a part of our mother/daughter bond.
When I dropped her off at kindergarten last week for the first time, I tried to prolong our final interaction in the car before she started her school day. After I managed to get a quick hug good-bye, I asked her if she needed kisses for her pockets. “No,” she said, self-assured, and she hopped out of the car without giving a second glance and scampered off into the building.
Like a burst floodgate, tears began to spill down my cheeks as I put the car in gear and pulled away. I guess it was Mommy who needed those kisses to keep in her pocket all day long.
My emotions were so raw and confusing. I had been preparing myself for this moment all summer; in fact, there were many lazy summer days when I cursed the fact that school hadn’t started yet. And as I began to reflect upon it on the short drive home, it’s been what I’ve been preparing my daughter to do for the past five years. I’ve been grooming her to be assertive, to find solutions to any problem she encounters, and to clean up after herself. I’ve taught her how to brush her teeth, feed the cats, tie her shoes, and make her bed. I’ve taught her to be proud of who she is, to look out for other people’s feelings, to try new things, and to be an active participant in her community. And now that my daughter is beginning to spread her wings, find her voice, and cope with a variety of situations without me to kiss her hand, I couldn’t be prouder and more heartbroken.
It’s the eternal paradox of parenting. We want our children to be independent. We want them to be brave and confident. As I deal with tantrums, wiping bums, major messes, and whining, I often think to myself that I am desperate for more time to myself. I wistfully envision the time when my children can manage to do more on their own. And while I am so, so honored to watch her and her sister grow up, I wasn’t prepared for the full ramification of what this meant. I wasn’t ready for the day when my kisses would be cast aside for the new adventures that await. I wasn’t prepared not to feel needed.
But as a mother, I firmly believe that it’s my role to teach her to one day become an adult who can function on her own. And this is just the beginning. She will continue to explore and push away from me. It is not the last time that the metaphorical kisses will be deemed unnecessary.
When I picked her up from school, she was glowing from excitement and chatted the whole ride home. I learned about circle time, new teachers, new activities, and new friends. I listened with enthusiasm, asked questions, and giggled with her. And that evening, we snuggled on the couch, her head buried against my chest, and read books to each other. It was glorious.
I will just find another way to keep her love in my pockets all day long.