Starting Kindergarten with Achilles

Soph starts kindergarten tomorrow. It’s just another transition, I keep telling myself, just one day of many days when she keeps growing up, growing independent, growing as I want her to. But I can’t help lamenting how quickly these last five years went. I can’t help wanting to cling to her before she sails out of my orbit for good, in another few years that I know will probably pass in a blink.

I also can’t help worrying for her: will she find good friends? Will her teacher be wise, and comforting, and wonderful? Will the larger school be daunting? And then I try to swallow these worries, wary of passing on my anxiety to her. Tonight she was chewing at her shirt-sleeve, anyway.

But today she was also asking me to tell her Greek myths. On our morning bike-ride, she had been chatting about a one-eyed monster she had made from a pipe-cleaner, and that prompted me to tell her about Odysseus outsmarting the Cyclops. She started asking for more. And more, til she exhausted my memory of the Odyssey. Then, on our after-dinner stroll, a neighbor mentioned Pandora’s box, and that story made her beg for still more. I could only recall 2 of the 7 labors of Hercules — but, still, there is something deeply satisfying about reaching into the mists of my memory and coming up with these classic oral stories that my daughter relishes.

Brushing her teeth before bed, she asked me: “Why didn’t Achilles’s mother just dip him in the River Styx a second time, holding him by his arms the second time, so his ankles would be protected by the magic water?”

I have often wondered that myself. I told her that I think the answer is that all humans need to have a weak point; it’s impossible to fully protect any person, even if you are a goddess, as Achilles’s mother was. Only gods can be perfect. We people are flawed.

And what I thought, but didn’t say: Clever girl. You’re going to have no trouble in kindergarten. She knows how to listen to stories and she knows how to ask the smart questions.

She knows how to talk about her feelings, too. She knows how to care for others, wait her turn, swim across a pool, practice something til she learns it, and count to 237 — which may sound like I’m bragging, but, trust me, listening to a five-year-old count to 237 makes for VERY tedious dinner conversation. Sophie knows how turn plastic forks into art, observe the world around her, spell a half-dozen words, create elaborate fantasy plays, and forgive her own imperfections. She knows what she needs to know to start kindergarten. She has her achilles’ heels, of course, many of them, because I’m not a goddess and I haven’t yet found any River Styx to insulate her from the arrows of life. But southern California may be a sort of River Styx, bathing her in kindness & comfort, giving her confidence to face the arrows that will come.

Somehow, because Sophie asked me about Achilles’s mother, I feel better releasing her to kindergarten.


4 responses to “Starting Kindergarten with Achilles

  1. e961

    A Cradle Song

    The angels are stooping Above your bed; They weary of trooping With the whimpering dead.

    God’s laughing in Heaven To see you so good; The Sailing Seven Are gay with His mood.

    I sigh that kiss you, For I must own That I shall miss you When you have grown.


    On Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 1:21 AM, Elaines blog

  2. Elaine, when you and your sister were toddlers the time came when you were first willing to leave our sight to play, but then from time to time you would peak back into the room where we were reading, to make sure that we were still there.

    That image was one that I hung on to as your increasing independence took you further and further away from me, hoping that I had given you the tools to be independent, and being available when you needed to check back in with me.

    Now your daughter is the one whose increasing independence is taking her further away from you, and I can only watch from afar, knowing that what is necessary for her can be painful for you. You turned out all right, and so will Sophie. Good luck to both of you.

  3. Anonymous

    Elaine, this is a really beautiful post that captures so much about the experience of motherhood. It is such a challenge to let our children go little by little. Even when we know what’s best for them, it can be hard to convince ourselves that it will be ok — “just like any other day,” as you write. I don’t think we will ever feel “ready” to send our children off — no matter how long the journey, or arduous the task — but we will do it anyway and fight back the tears as we say goodbye. Thank you for speaking to so many of my feelings in this bittersweet moment. Hoping that your daughter’s day was beautiful, and yours was too.

  4. Leah Khaghani

    Elaine, your blog post really captures what I, myself, am struggling with in this moment. Letting go of our children little by little is truly one of the most challenging aspects of motherhood. It is never easy to say goodbye to our wee ones — no matter how long the journey, nor arduous the task — even when we know it is ultimately what is best for them. Our hearts expand exponentially when we have children, only to be later fragmented as our children depart. It is difficult to convince oneself that it is “just another day,” as you write, when each step will carry them further away from our arms. Thank you for reminding me that I am not all alone, but participating in a trial that legions of mothers before and after me have confronted. Hoping that your daughter’s day was beautiful, and yours was, too.

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