To My Daughter as She Begins Kindergarten: oh, the places you will go

It began with a painful and exhilarating walk into the hospital, five and a half years ago.

And left us walking out of that hospital 24 hours later, with no baby in the backseat.

Instead, our footsteps took us, every day, multiple times a day, into the nearby NICU, where we paced around worriedly next to your isolette.

After we were able to be discharged from the NICU, we carried you into our home to meet your big brother, and our trek was almost completely confined to those walls for many months as we learned to care for your skin.

Months turned to years, and finally, our steps became your steps. You let go and learned to walk on your own… cautiously, carefully, never too far.

We’ve spent the vast majority of the last 5.5 years by your side…pushing your swing at the park, shuffling into doctors offices, piggyback rides up to bed.

And tomorrow, you will walk into your classroom to start a new journey. And only you can determine where you will go from there.

My sweet child, on this day before you begin Kindergarten…

Oh, the the places you’ve been – and the places you will now go.

I know you will stand for big things, because of where you’ve treaded before. I know your pain has brought forth great concern and compassion for others. I know your fears have elicited deeper empathy and understanding. And I know the courage you’ve had to cling to has found a strength and capability that we are grateful for.

I have been asked, again and again, how I am feeling, if I will cry as I walk away from school tomorrow.

If there will be tears, they will fall because of pride for who you are and the impact I know you will make on those you walk beside. If there will be tears, they will come from the gratitude of this milestone, not from the grief of any kind of loss. Because there were more than a few times that we didn’t know if we’d see this day, if we’d get to experience the excitement of you starting school.

That kind of uncertainty changes a person, a mother. It molds your emotions for new changes into those blooming with celebratory appreciation rather than nostalgic back-pedaling.

When I say “I can’t believe it’s here,” I don’t mean that the last five years went quickly. I mean that I can’t believe you’re here, going to full-time school. From your arrival as a critically ill newborn who has already climbed some tough mountains in your short life, I am awed by the way you are thriving today. Loving deeply, living big and wide and loud.

Tomorrow, you will take your steps into your Kindergarten classroom. You will walk into new relationships, new feelings, new challenges.

And I pray with each step that you never forget who you are: an ambitious, compassionate person lovingly created by the Lord just as you are, with many gifts to offer the world and the opportunity to make a huge positive difference in many lives as you strive to live out your God-given purpose.

Happy First Day of School, beautiful girl.

Our surprise about Brenna’s new teacher

The energy was lively among the young students who sat waiting for their classroom doors to open on the first day of school, and after giving Connor a kiss, I held Brenna’s hand as we walked slowly down the hall toward her preschool classroom. I began to feel heads turn, conversations quiet, eyes on us, and I maintained a perky smile as I exclaimed “we’re almost to your class, Brenna! This is going to be so fun!”

As we passed, I heard a little boy loudly remark “Why’s she so hot?” and another boy sitting next to him, who was in Brenna’s class last year, answered that she wasn’t hot. “Well, why’s she so red?” came the next loud question, to which I could barely hear – among the chatter that had started again in the hallway – the second reply that was firmly given: “She has sensitive skin. She’s NICE.”

We rounded the corner to Brenna’s class, where we were met with almost entirely new faces, with only a couple of familiar kids from previous semesters – and along with that, very noticeable reaction to Brenna’s entrance. My heart tightened deep in my chest, and the threat of tears burned in my eyes. It was unexpected, and I felt defensive; I was barely able to concentrate as I went over care instructions with Brenna’s new aide.

I cried on that car ride home.

The tears continued after I shut the garage door, as I wrestled with how to make things like this easier or better, how to prepare, how to react myself, how to not to project my own feelings onto Brenna when I struggle as her mother.

That first week of school this year was emotional for me, and I prayed fervently during those days for wisdom, understanding and grace.

Other new developments this school year were staff changes. Brenna was assigned a new personal aide, and the school hired a new nurse – and what comes with that kind of changing of the guards is the re-start of education and awareness about her condition, her IEP and health plan, her routines, her personality.

So when Brenna’s head classroom teacher announced that she was taking a new job at a different school as well, it felt like this school year was a new road containing unexpected twists that left us swerving, frustrated, trying to catch up, perhaps even a little alone.

It was a Friday when there was a little tap on my window as I buckled in, ready to drive off after picking up Brenna from school.

“I just wanted to introduce myself,” said the tall, friendly woman standing next to my van. “I’m going to be the new preschool teacher starting on Monday.”

And I will never forget what came out of her mouth next…

“I have ichthyosis too.”

This rare skin disorder that no one’s ever heard of? Brenna’s new teacher actually has it… a mild form called ichthyosis vulgaris.

I cried on that car ride home.

The tears continued after I shut the garage door, as I marveled at how God makes all things beautiful, how he redeems hard situations, how he works through others to reach us and works through us to reach others.

This relationship between Brenna and her new teacher has blossomed quickly, and witnessing their fast connection has made my heart soar day after day. I’ve peeked into a school assembly to see them dancing together, and I’ve even received emailed selfies that Brenna asked her teacher to take with her. Mrs. G has gone out of her way to ensure that Brenna is fostering one-on-one relationships with her classmates, and Brenna now loves to share that “my new teacher has special skin like me!”

One day recently, I smiled as the two of them walked out of school together, hand in hand.

“I showed her today how much my hands were like hers,” Mrs. G said with a smile. Both of them stopped walking, and Brenna placed both of her hands on top of her teacher’s, palm on palm, examining them.

“Our hands say a whole lot about us.” Mrs. G bent down to Brenna’s level. “And our hands sure have big stories to tell, don’t they!”

Yes they do – and I’m so glad the stories of these two now include each other.

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

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