I have a lot of admiration for my daughter Sidney, who is five years old. I have never met a more naturally kind person — she is always looking after her little sister Riley, who can be a handful, and she makes close friendships at a young age with both other children and adults. Sidney’s wonderful little girlfriends at her preschool — Reagan, Sammy, Kendall, others too — have been a great gang at school for the past year in Ms. Theresa’s class. Now, they are all heading off to different schools for kindergarten.
I have been amazed at the maturity Sidney and her friends have shown through this dramatic transition. They are leaving their friends behind and going to completely different worlds, and they really love each other, but they are handling the transition better than most adults would. They show true friendship and an appreciation of both the friendship and the upcoming change: For the last few weeks of school, whenever I would arrive with Sidney at preschool, her wonderful little friends would all yell “Sidney!” and they’d all run and hug each other, as a group and then one by one. Then they’d play. They would talk openly to me about the different schools they were going to and say they wanted to have playdates.
I thought Sidney would be distraught over this — leaving her friends, her preschool of the last two years, her teacher who she adores — but she has been an absolute champ. I have asked her several times about her feelings about changing schools, told her I would love to talk to her about anything that might scare her about it, and leading up to school, she’s repeatedly said: “I’m gonna miss my friends and Miss Theresa, but I’m excited about going to kindergarten.” And she’s totally sincere.
I am so proud of her confidence — my big girl knows that her new teacher will appreciate the person she is and that she will make friends. She knows it. I remember, over three years ago, when we started our first preschool in California, Sidney was very nervous and shy and serious. Not anymore. She’s composed and confident. She truly inspires me to be more poised and confident in challenging situations. She knows she can handle it, and she’s only five. I think of her when I’m nervous about anything — which admittedly is not too often — and it makes me smile and relax.
So… The first few weeks of elementary school have gone great. Sidney doesn’t have super close friends there yet, but she is game to go every morning (three days a week for kindergarten). She has had concerns about the bus that have been difficult to pin down — she likes the bus, but somehow she has seemed afraid that she’s going to miss the bus on the way home or that I don’t know where the bus goes when she’s on it. So we solved that problem together: I followed the bus in my car, both to school and from school one afternoon, and then we talked about everything about the trip. Now she seems more relaxed about it — I think because I know all the places she’s gonna be — and I’m glad she told me about her concern.
Nonetheless… Despite Sidney’s excitement, courage, and brave face, Janette and I have noticed more nervous stress indicators in Sidney over the last few weeks. She chews on her hair. She fidgets. She is thinking about things and occasionally absent-minded. We ask her if she’s okay, and she confidently says: “Yes.” We ask her if she likes school, and she says “yes.” But tonight, she did a very uncharacteristic thing for her: She just broke down and cried and cried and cried, for almost twenty minutes, about her decision to get out of the bath a few minutes early. (Daddy and Riley and Sidney were taking a bath in the big tub, something we do a few times a week — a joy to describe on another day in this blog.)
She regretted the decision and was crying, crying, crying about it. She was inconsolable. This is unlike her. We hugged her and got mad at her and hugged her and told her to let it out and told her to stop and hugged her and got frustrated and tried to make her laugh and hugged her and finally something worked. (As you can see, we were not altogether consistent or impressive in our response to Sidney’s extended emotional outburst, in part because we haven’t seen much like it before.)
After she calmed down, we put her right to bed. I told her what I often tell her beaming and proud and loving face as the last thing before I leave her room: “Sidney, there is no one in this world I admire more than you, because you are smart, you are fun, and most of all, you are kind. I don’t know how you do all that at such a young age. Thank you for being my best friend and for inspiring me to try to be those things too. I am the luckiest daddy in the world.” And she smiled that impossibly sincere and appreciative smile — the one she gives me every night at bedtime — and said, as always: “I love you Daddy. You’re the best daddy in the world. I want you to always be my Daddy.”
And I left her room, thinking: Even on Sidney’s worst night, when the weight of a world-changing transition is suddenly hitting her, when she doesn’t understand her own emotions of fear and anxiety, when she thinks she’s sad about the tub but she’s really sad about something so much larger — having to change her school, her circle of friends, her methods of transportation, her five year old comfort zone — even then, this extraordinary girl with a heart of pure love and courage will look up at me after pretty much her longest cry ever and tell me that she just wants me to know that I’m the greatest.
How many people will ever give you that kind of love? I’m the luckiest man in the world.