It goes by so fast.  We hear it all the time.  We say it to each other.

“It goes by so fast” is a truth of parenting that we forget and remember, forget and remember.

Forget during those long nights when we’re up every hour feeding our child.  Remember when we look back at our family album, and remember how tiny they were in the beginning.  (Back when they were smaller than the cat!)

Forget during those long days at home with them, trying to put together the daily schedule that will fill all… those… hours…  Remember when we meet a friend we haven’t seen in a while, and notice all the new things our littles one can do, now that they’re older.

This month, I had a big reminder of  “It goes by so fast.”

My three and a half year old daughter, Peregrine, started preschool.

It’s been a long time coming.  Since she was born, we’ve kept her close.  For three years, her days have generally been spent at home or going on outings with me, with her father, or with my parents.

As someone living with extended family, I’ve had the privilege of getting to follow her lead.

I got to wait until she was ready.

I love how she let me know.

Here’s how it happened – I went to pick her up from a playdate at the home of her best friend who’s four.  When I came to get her, the girls were jumping on the couch together, giggling.

The room was happily cluttered with all the debris of their fun together from the morning.  Drawing, finger puppets, books and toys… So many wonderful activities they had enjoyed together.

“Peregrine, honey, it’s time to go.”

“No!  I want to stay!”

“I understand, my love.  I wish I could let you stay.  It’s time for our friends to go on with their day, and we’re going to have some Peregrine – Mama time.”

She looked at me thoughtfully.  “Mama…” She seemed to be searching for the words for a moment, then went on.

“It’s too much Mama,” she said.  “I’m ready for friends.”

Then it was me who was searching for words.  I felt so many things.

It was one of those moments when you flash back on a whole carousel of images from years past.  Wearing her in the woven wrap after she was just born. A mischievous moment at ten months old when she poured an entire jar of cumin on the couch pillows.  Seeing her as a spunky three year old, standing up for herself with her older brother.

All those times we’d lived and shared together, back when I was pretty much the center of her world.

And now, just like that, some shift had occurred, and she was emerging from the cocoon of the time we had shared.  I felt it as clear as a new day. She was ready.

“I’m so glad to hear it,” I said.  “That moves my heart to hear that you are ready for friends.  From now on, let’s be sure that you have more time with friends.”

I signed her up for pre-school the next day.  She started the following week. And the transition has been virtually seamless.

Virtually seamless.

That’s not to say that it’s been without ambivalence (on her part), or wanting to backtrack.  Like all big change, sudden certainty is followed by slow shifting, parts of ourselves catching up, feelings settling.  It was sudden clarity, followed by a gradual transition to help us bring it into everyday life.

Peregrine loved the free play based, Waldorf inspired school we’d chosen, and we knew it was the right place for her.  Still, she was pretty ambivalent about being alone there. For the first two days, I stayed the whole day with her while she just sat on my lap and watched the other children play.  On her third day, my mother spent the day with her there. Then, on the fourth day, I knew she was ready. I stayed a bit, then told her I had a meeting I needed to go to.

Her eyes widened, but she rallied, and when I came to get her, the teacher’s told me that she’d had a great day.

Now, when I pick her up, she never wants to leave nursery school.  She camps out on the little rocker and digs in her heels. “Mama, I do NOT want to go home.”  Or curls up with the other children reading books by the cozy fire. “Mama, I want to stay here.”

Sometimes, she doesn’t want to go.

“Mama,” she says some mornings, “I changed my mind.  I’m NOT ready for friends. I need more Mama. I want you to stay with me.”

“I hear you, sweetheart,” I say.  “I understand how you feel. We all feel sometimes like we just need Mama to stay with us.  But do you know that I will ALWAYS be your Mama? Even when you go to school, I will always be here for you when you need me.”

Such a tender process, this growth into independence.  This movement towards and into our places of safety and certainty.  Then the outbreath… Moving out… Expansion… Feeling into our curiosity, reaching into the world again.

What a privilege it is to behold my daughter coming into her own..

As I watch her grow into independence, I recommit to my own steadfastness for her.  However she moves, let me be a place she can return to. Let me be a stable, safe, strong earth to her developing, enveloping freedom.

Little daughter.

Cloud taster.

Roller down hills.

Little storyteller, with your bunnies, kitty – unicorns and enchanted places.

May you always know that you have a home in me.

May I always discern how to help you feel safe and seen, so that you can come to me with your problems.  So you can tell me, “Actually, maybe I’m not ready for friends.”
And one day, when you’re a big kid with something big to tell me, may you know then too that you can come to me.  Maybe something really big. Maybe something that will shock me. May you know, when that day comes, that you can tell it to me anyway.  May you know me well enough by then to know that after I’m shocked, I’ll get over it and come around.

Meanwhile, I just sit back, little one, and wonder.

Wonder at the miracle of your finding yourself and your way.  So young. So whole. So strong.

My daughter, and yet…  Not mine.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you
But they are not of you
And though they are with you
They belong not to you.

-Khalil Gibran”

So let us cherish this time…  This time when we hold them close.

And when the time comes to let them go, let them go.  Release them with our blessing, and without grasping.

So that they know that our love is unambivalent.

May they know that they have our unconditional love and support, and also that they belong, with equal love, to themselves.