My baby was almost late to her first ever day at school because I couldn't get my mascara right. I don't usually wear mascara, but my eyes looked like I'd been crying all night (which was not surprising, because I had). And so I slathered it on, then got teary again, so the whole lot smeared. In the end, I left the house with grey-rimmed puffy eyes, which will look truly memorable in those First Day At School photos.
I didn't expect to have such a strong reaction to my youngest starting school. I was quite excited when my big boy and girl started Year K all those years ago. I was ridiculously proud, marveling at their uniforms, taking endless photos of them with their hats and bags. It felt like the start of a wonderful new chapter. There was no sense of loss, no sense of mourning, just fresh beginnings.
This time, though, this time it's my baby. My beautiful, precious girl. She was born when her siblings were already six and eight. Last year her brother started high school, and next year her sister will join him. They are growing up, moving forward with their lives. Every day I see them morphing from children into teenagers. Every day I am stunned by the passage of time. It rushes ahead, and they rush with it. It's magnificent and wonderful and incredibly quick.
But it's been okay, because I have had my youngest. The big kids could grow up but she would always be with me. She would always be cute. She would always want to snuggle. It would be okay because I would always have my baby. I couldn't even fathom my girl growing up.
Today my baby put on her uniform and shoes, hoisted her backpack onto her back, and walked into school. And it hurt. It hurt. I didn't want to let her go. I was careful to be positive and cheerful, but inside I was crying. I know it will be fine, I know she will have a fabulous day, but I'm just not ready to let her go.
In years to come, I'll look back on the pictures from today and laugh. There is my daughter, in her too-big dress and her perfect, shiny shoes. There is my husband, smiling broadly. There is our big girl, having run down from her classroom, proudly showing her sister around. And there is me, with my grey puffy eyes, clinging on to my baby with all I've got.
One day I'll laugh. But right now I'm still having a little weep. Until 3pm, when I pick her up, and she'll be my little girl again.