"Mom? Will it be okay that I'm wearing these shorts?" Her voice was quiet, a little shaky.
We were driving to Annabelle's first tumbling class, a fairly informal class offered by a local recreation center, but her first class ever to attend, all by herself. We'd been talking about this class for weeks, especially as her best friend was in it already. She could hardly wait, and I took her to Target (because where else would I go?), where she got to pick out a special tumbling outfit. In the days that followed, she told everyone she talked to about her tumbling clothes. "If you want, I'll show you 'em?" She was so excited. I was so excited too. I knew that my Belle needed something all her own, something she didn't have to share with her sister one bit. A chance to run and play and laugh. And a chance to do something by herself, without Mommy's help.
But now, as we drove, I saw my sweet, cautious daughter turn into the bundle of nerves that her mother often becomes. She was nervous about her shorts. Oh, how she is my daughter! I looked back quickly as I drove and saw a face fighting tears. And then my face had to fight them too. I reached back and gave her knee a squeeze. I told her that her shorts were perfect, that she was perfect, and that she would have so much fun. She bit her lip and smiled, trying to be brave.
When we got to the class, she wanted me to go with her. I told her that I had to stay outside the door with the other mommies but that she could see me through the window. She said she wanted to watch for a minute. Because I know and understand this girl, I let her watch. I knew that she was afraid of looking funny. I know that she hates to do anything unless she's confident she can do it right. She doesn't sing a song until she knows all the words. She won't read her books until she can read every word. She won't join a group of friends until she's observed them all for a while. It's who she is. And so we watched. She smiled as they stretched. She saw her friend and watched with intense eyes, memorizing how the kids were interacting. She paid special attention to the teacher. When they used a big parachute to throw balloons around the room, she decided it might be fun to join. I walked her in. We took small, timid steps, but we kept moving forward. Her teacher saw her and said, "You must be Annabelle!" and with a big smile motioned her in. Then her best friend spotted her and ran to give her a hug.
Annabelle smiled at me and followed her friend to her "circle on the floor." She sat down and one more time, asked if I could stay. I told her I couldn't but that I'd be right there, right outside watching. She told me she'd be okay. And so I watched. And although it's just a little thirty minute class for toddlers, my heart nearly burst with pride.
She listened to her teacher so hard I thought her ears might fall off. She tried every trick and instruction, and she tried with that focused determination that is Annabelle. She was brave and beautiful. And she was so happy. I realized as I watched her, proud of every floppy handstand and sommersault, that this was just the beginning of a lifetime of happy separations and sweet victories. In all the playing and learning and being that we do, I always hope that my babies are secure in who they are, in how they're loved and supported, and that that love that will help make them brave and strong. I want them to know that even when Mommy or Daddy aren't literally there, we are always figuratively right by their side, cheering them on, proud of their every victory. As I watched her succeed that day, my heart felt like it really might explode. I am that mom, cheesy and sometimes dorky, but I was so proud.
When class was over, she ran out to me and hugged my legs. She held up her hand that had a stamp on it, and said, smiling and slightly out of breath, "Can I go again?"