The First Day of Kindergarten—and the Photograph

IMG_8955This week we marked a big first—the first day of kindergarten for the small gal. She set off ready, with her brand-new lunchbox—just like two of her preschool pals had—and her ladybug backpack and her pigtails. I said no to flip-flops; she insisted upon wearing them. Like the seasoned parent I am, I consented, because I knew the teachers would let her know the rules—no flip-flops—and then we’d return to the sensible summery appropriate-for-school footwear. She wore a headband and her hair was sprayed with the rosemary lice repellent.

Many people said things to me along the lines of this being our last first day of kindergarten. That’s true. I certainly thought about how much easier this fourth first day of kindergarten drop-off was than the first one, as I left her amongst nervous peers and a more nervous thicket of camera-wielding parents in the midst of first-time kindergarten starts. She was fortunate that her first grade partner, Max, was so easygoing and warm and directive. They took off from the sign-in board to the rug. Just before she left me after signing in and before she walked to the rug, she grabbed an extra hug, one she made super-strong. Fortified with enough mama love, she was on her way.

After I said goodbye, I went from drop-off to meeting to another meeting. It wasn’t until later that I had a chance to look at the photographs I’d snapped at school. There she was, signing in with all the seriousness a starting-kindergartner musters for this most big-kid event. I sent out an email of those initial moments—to all the grandparents and to her birth mama, and a few others. As I hit send, I had a tug I sometimes feel when I share these milestones. I felt guilty that I got to be the one to experience this prideful, somewhat shaky, completely exciting moment firsthand.

The photograph allowed me both to feel this and to share the milestone. It’s funny how it did two things. Certainly, in the ragtag mess of kids and parents and teachers eager for the extraneous adults to leave, I didn’t think about her birth mama, my dear husband or anyone else. I was focused upon one thing above all others and that was to make as hasty and uncomplicated a retreat from the classroom as possible. I left the tears to other kids and other parents. The fact that I’d documented the moment allowed for reflection.

When I did stare at her serious little hand grasping that marker to circle her name on the sign-in board, I was able to feel my sense of amazing fortune. I’ve spoken to enough adoptive parents about this to know that I’m not alone in feeling fortunate this way, not just during babyhood. I know others have told me this goes on for years and years. It’s one of the things about adoptive parenthood I hadn’t really anticipated, the strong and ongoing waves of gratitude. I hadn’t anticipated that when you talk about the sensation with other adoptive parents, it’s as if you’ve joined a club, a little subset of the parents’ club. I don’t expect to stop feeling grateful.

I also allowed myself to acknowledge that I felt a momentary wave of guilt wash over me. I felt it right alongside the sense of fortune, and I don’t feel it nearly so often as I feel grateful. But, that morning I did. Maybe, along with the gratitude and the guilt was vulnerability, the not-knowing what the best move would be just then. I wondered whether the secondhand moment I’d just sent along would be a happy gift or whether it would be melancholy, in the way big markers or holidays might be more fraught than regular ones.

This is not mine to know, necessarily. There might not be one single answer for her mama. These seem the way birthdays do, like moments to share. If we can share the picture, maybe the moment becomes all of ours? I wanted to share the moment, and the pride. I didn’t want to intrude. Not all of the extended family—birth family and my own—are on Facebook, where I could simply post the photos and leave to chance whether they see them. I didn’t want to do that, anyway. I did want to reach out, intentionally. I do that routinely enough for lesser reasons. The bigger-ticket ones I capture on the camera, I do like to share, even if sometimes, I have these flashes of insecurity around them. I imagine these images and feelings to fall into the muddled and confused and generously loving pile that we could characterize as what makes open adoption open.

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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