I circle the low-slung building that houses the elementary school scanning the sides for parking. Even as I despair of finding one, I spy a red arrow pointing further down for additional parking. The clock reads 5:55 PM. I park and hold the girls close as I follow the crowd to the doors. A few minutes later, we are seated in the third row. I let go of the anxiety I have been holding on to and look around. Adults and children alike are buzzing with energy. I see enthusiastic reunions. The hall resounds with queries on how the summer has been, what the kids have been up to and exclamations proclaiming how much the children have grown.
As a newcomer, I watch from the sidelines spying neighbors and familiar faces in the crowd. Ammu and Pattu are looking around curiously. Like planets on an orbit, they circle me, careful to remain in sight. The sounds of a microphone yank my attention to the center. The sounds abate and soon the principal is giving his address. The next two hours speed past and I return home clutching two manila envelopes and two folders. Dinner and bedtime take precedence and I go about settling the kids down.
The house quiets and so does my mood. All summer long, I have been counting down to this week. Images from the evening wash over me. I sit back and take stock. Somewhere earlier in the evening as the principal instructed parents to meet with the teachers leaving the kids behind. I did so with trepidation. Caught in the swirling mass of adults moving upstairs, I craned my neck to reassure myself that my daughters were OK and the image that caught my eye as I turned the corner was reassuring and disconcerting. Three girls enveloped in a hug. The smiles on their faces spoke of surprise, happiness and friendship. It spoke of confidence. Of finding their place in the crowd. Of resetting themselves to a new normal in the absence of a hovering mother.
As I hopped between the two classes that my daughters would be in, catching snippets of instructions and expectations, I realized in less than a week, my twins will be walking these corridors, book bags and lunch bags in hand. The cubbies labeled with their names will be littered with their personal effects. The tiny desks with their names on it will be a silent spectator to the specter of my children leaving their innocence and childhood behind. As they make friends and deal with the harsh realities of being on their own, these hallowed halls will be testament to their budding personalities.
Waiting for my girls to join me to meet their teachers, I saw parents bent over, probably mulling similar thoughts in their head. The anxiety and unsaid expectation hung in the air weighing us all down. Standing in line chatting with my neighbors, I realized this is a new world I am stepping into. As a parent of school going children, this network will define the next phase of my life. Watching Ammu and Pattu sit at their desk, their fingers trailing over the firm surface, I feel their fear and excitement. I watch Ammu peer into her stationary box and pout as she searches for a micro-tip pencil she saw in her sister’s box in the adjoining class. As I kneel in front of her explaining that she and Pattu may not have the exact same things, I see my future dance palpably in front of my eyes before it vanishes.
Herding the children out of the school, the horizon is lit with an orange hue as the sun dips behind the trees. I pause for a moment taking it all in before I move. The kids run ahead of me skipping and jumping with an abandon I seem to find hard to summon. Waiting for them to belt themselves in, I ask lightly “Are you excited?”. “Yes!” they chorus as I join the sea of vehicles leaving the school.
The lump in my throat has less to do with the impending start of first grade than the succession of years that flash before my eyes before they will eventually spread their wings to fly away from home.