Please Don’t Try to Be the Best: A Letter to my Daughter on her First Day of Kindergarten

Last week, I bought your first backpack for kindergarten (not your first one ever—you had one for preschool). While we were shopping, I thumbed through the spiral-bound journals, remembering when I was eight years old, and my mother bought me my first scented diary. I let you pick one out for yourself and you chose a light pink one with a unicorn, the words Make today magical scrawled across the front.

That night, you stayed up far past your bedtime. You wanted to write in your notebook, but you’ve only just learned how to write the alphabet. So you pulled out your Richard Scarry book and copied words from it.

Richard Scarry

Hippoelephantzebra.

Then, you wrote your oft-repeated motif from your fourth year of life,

Mom love. Love moma.

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I thought you would sleep in the next morning.

But there you were at 4:00 a.m., standing next to my side of the bed. You didn’t touch me to wake me up. You just stood there until I opened my eyes to the light of the hallway.

“Henry’s talking, Mama. So I’m going to write in my notebook now. Are you going to do yoga?”

It turned out that Henry was just sleep-talking, but I got up anyway since I usually get up early to exercise. To you, exercise always means yoga. But instead of yoga, I lifted weights while you copied words into your notebook while eagerly watching me lift weights to my workout DVD. After fifteen minutes, you joined me in lifting weights.

Kind of.

You picked up a two-pound weight with your right hand.

Since this happened to your left elbow a few weeks ago.

Felicity cast

You and I “worked out” together. You, with a 2-pound weight and a haphazardly stretched resistance band. Me, with 10- and 20-pound weights.

And when we were done at 5:00 a.m., we took a walk down the street, you wearing your brand new backpack. With the tags still on.

You told me about how excited you were to start kindergarten and all of your plans about what you would put in your new cubby in your new school. You recited all the steps that will be involved in getting you to your new school.

“First, I’ll get up in the morning and get dressed. Then, Daddy will take me to daycare and I’ll eat breakfast. Then, someone will drive me on the bus to kindergarten. And then what, Mama?”

We went over the steps several times, our sneakered feet moving quietly across the pavement, the moon high in the early morning sky.

Of course, by 1:00 p.m., you completely crashed at naptime.

***

I’ve learned a lot about you in the first five years of your life.

You’re like me.

Caring. Lover of books. Curious. Persistent to the point of Stubborn. Strong.

But you’re also not like me at all.

You’re a Natural Born Leader. Optimistic. Super-sociable. Pusher of boundaries. Observant. (You can spot a tiny cricket, hiding behind the vacuum cleaner, from across the room.)

Some mothers say they love the baby years. Some say they love the toddler years (though I think they’re few in number). Others love the preschool years. And although I had moments when I couldn’t get enough of your newborn smell, I have to say…

I think I’m going to love the school-age years.

***

Here’s what I want to say to you as you turn five on your first day of kindergarten.

If I cry when you leave, it’s not because I wish you were still a baby. Still small enough for me to encircle in my arms. Still young enough to believe that I can keep the moon from fading from the early morning sky so we can walk together, uninterrupted for hours.

If I cry when you leave, it’s because I’m so excited for you.

To learn to read and write.

To find out what interests you, makes you curious, drives you crazy.

To dive into math and science.

To figure out how to build friendships and make amends.

To solve puzzles.

To fail.

To make bad decisions, and (hopefully) learn from them.

You won’t understand this just yet, but someday you will:

Please, please, don’t try to be the best.

Please, please, don’t try to be perfect.

There will always be someone who is better at something than you are.

I don’t care if you get all A’s. I don’t care if you’re the best at clarinet or soccer or gymnastics. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re class president or voted Best Artist.

Please, please, don’t live your life according to ways that you think will earn my love, my attention, and my respect.

You already have them.

Find what you love to do. Find what you’re good at. Try lots of different things. Read lots of different books. Ask questions.

But most importantly, don’t serve yourself.

Serve humanity.

Do good. Follow a higher calling. Keep your moral compass pointed north.

Don’t create a life that leads you down a path of wanting more money and more power. It’s futile and unsatisfying. And it will never be enough.

I’m so happy for you.

Happy that I get to be a witness to it all.

Love,

Mom