The Blink of an Eye

Clare Bartram By Clare Bartram, 15th Jan 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Family

A short coming-of-age story about a child and her mother.

The Blink of an Eye

Looking back, I remember it so vividly, that day in September of 1998. For two months I had visited every preschool in the area, carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each one, comparing cost, child/teacher ratios, and locations. All morning I had been cheerfully espousing to Sarah the virtues of where she was going, telling her how much fun she would be having and all the wonderful things that awaited her on her first day of school. As I rambled amiably through my little monologue I found myself wondering who I was trying to convince more, but Sarah seemed happy in anticipation of new toys, games, and snacks, so after dressing her in a new little print dress, putting on her socks and shoes, and strapping her into her car seat, we headed toward our destination.

We arrived to find a cheerfully decorated building with colorful construction paper cutouts of flowers, smileys, and Sesame Street characters covering the doors and walls. A smiling staff consisting of a seasoned early childhood teacher accompanied by college student assistants greeted Sarah effusively and ushered us into a big playroom where other children were engaged in various activities at different stations throughout the room. The head teacher informed me that “story time” would be coming up presently, a subtle hint it was time for me to leave. A wave of anxiety washed over me but, smiling, I bent down, kissed Sarah on the forehead, told her to have fun and assured her I would be back soon to take her home. As I stepped away I felt a tiny hand clinging to my pant leg and looked down to see Sarah, her large blue eyes filled with fear, saying quietly, “Don’t go, Mommy!”

“It’s all right, Sarah,” I said. “You’ll be fine. Be a good girl and have fun and when I come back in a little while I promise I’ll take you for ice cream….just you and me; Emily and Daddy can stay at home this time.”
“Okay…” Sarah whimpered, and I stepped quickly from the room, darting around the corner to view the scene from the two way mirror.

As I peered through the glass I saw Sarah sitting off to one side, alone, observing the other children as they gathered around the teacher who held a large storybook filled with bright illustrations. Sarah’s expression was a combination of sorrow, fear, and abandonment, but she shed no tears. I, on the other hand, stood outside the room with my forehead resting against the glass, tears streaming shamelessly down my cheeks. Here was a heartbreak I had NEVER experienced before and I felt totally miserable. It was then that I heard a voice behind me saying, “This must be your first one!” I turned to see a heavily pregnant woman smiling at me.
“Yes,” I choked out, wishing this woman would just go away.
“See the little guy with the blue striped shirt and khaki pants? That’s mine,” she said. “He’s my second child.” My annoyance with this woman grew by the second, but I responded meekly with, “Uh-huh.”
“You know,” she continued, “I’ve been exactly where you are. I know how you feel.”

Inwardly, I chaffed with irritation. No one could ever understand what I felt because no one could ever understand my love for my daughter. I managed to nod my head politely. The woman stood silently for a moment and then said, “You know, you have to know when to let go…”

The words were inevitable, but no less piercing. My mind simultaneously accepted and rejected what she said. “It gets easier,” she proffered, “but just the fact that this hurts so much should be a testament to the great job you’re doing as a parent.”
“I know,” I said, and then excusing myself, I left.

I returned two hours later to find my daughter wholly intact and in a much better emotional state than her mother. As promised, I took Sarah to her favorite place for ice cream, a small stand built in the shape of a giant ice cream cone. We sat there eating our sundaes while Sarah chatted happily about all the new things she had done that morning. That day marked a milestone and began a new chapter in Sarah’s young life.

Now, fast-forward fifteen years…

Although the past few weeks had been warm and humid to the point of being muggy, moving day into the university dawned cool and damp with the oppressive threat of rain. I awoke early to find Sarah’s luggage packed, stacked and waiting on the living room floor to be loaded into the car for our trip. The house was quiet with both girls asleep upstairs and as I moved toward the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee my mind shuffled through a multitude of questions. “Has she forgotten anything? How should I load all of this into the car? Will it all fit?” My mind tackled the practical questions analytically in a vicious attempt to quell the quiet undercurrent of my greater underlying concerns. I strove to push aside the nagging voice that asked, “Will she be okay alone at school? How will Emily and I adapt to life without Sarah here?” and the biggest question of all, “What will I do without her?”

Two hours later, after a frenzy of loading and last minute list checking, we arrived at the university and joined a mass of students and parents unloading and lugging belongings of all shapes and sizes into the dorm. I waited in line with Sarah as she filled out paperwork, was issued key cards and given lists of rules, phone numbers, and campus maps. After three trips each, carrying what seemed to be a trivial amount of belongings compared to her fellow students, our moving was done. We partook of a quick lunch followed by a trip to the bookstore for textbooks and supplies, then returned to the dorm and unpacked. An hour later all was done and a place had been found for everything in the tiny single room. There was nothing left for me to was time to leave. Sarah offered to walk with me to the parking lot where I had moved the car after we had unloaded everything.

As we trudged up the hill to the parking lot I suddenly recalled that first day of preschool fifteen years earlier. Time stood still and a wave of anxiety and sorrow washed over me. Here was a heartbreak I HAD experienced before and I felt totally miserable.

“You have to know when to let go…”

There were those inevitable, piercing words, replaying in my mind like a recording. Then, an idea came to me.

“Is there anything else you’d like to do before I leave?” I asked as we reached the car.
“Well,” Sarah said, “I don’t have anything to do, so we can walk around the campus and find some of the buildings my classes are in if you feel like it.”
“Good plan!” I answered. We trudged off, snaking our way around and through the campus until we reached the student center. Once inside, I led Sarah into the food court and up to the ice cream stand.
“I think ice cream would be a good ending to our first day, what do you think?” I asked Sarah.
“That sounds good, but why don’t we split something?” she offered.

As we shared the small cup of ice cream, a student dressed as the school mascot paraded into the food court, greeting new students and parents. Spying us, he moved to our table and after much clowning, posed for a picture with Sarah. After his departure, we laughed and talked of all the things Sarah experienced that day and I began to feel better. Sarah will be fine, as will Emily and I. In many ways fifteen years is an eternity. Looking back, so much has changed, so many people have come and gone-I have loved and lost so much. But just as Sarah’s introduction to preschool marked not a loss of babyhood, but an initiation into childhood, so college marks her initiation into adulthood. In the blink of an eye, another milestone has been reached and a another new chapter begins in Sarah’s young life.


Children, College, College Student, Growth, Motherhood

Meet the author

author avatar Clare Bartram
I'm a musician by vocation, a writer by avocation, an observer, and a work in progress...

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
15th Jan 2014 (#)

You have spoken for most parents, Clare. If we get too attached we do not want our children to grow up. But they have to face a real world of little sympathy. Your words resonate in me as I had same feelings when my son started school and went to another country for university education - siva

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