Kathleen and I stepped outside to say hello to our neighbor M. before she got on the bus for the first day of school. She's in second grade now and will be picked up at the other end of our short block, so we saw her and wished her a good day but didn't actually see her off as we did so many times last spring. She's an old pro at the bus now, having ridden it for two years.
But two years ago, I watched her get on that bus for the first time. Henry and I sat out on the porch on a cool September morning to wave goodbye. She was so tentative. I watched and Henry watched and her parents watched and her brother waited to see if she would actually go. Then, an older girl she knew met her at the door and M. got on and sat with her and the bus left. A few days later, M. told me that she would hold Henry's hand on his first day of school and sit with him so he wouldn't be scared to get on the bus. I smiled seeing the two of them five years in the future, my boy with his bright smile, his bigger friend taking care of him.
A few days later, Henry ended up in the hospital. Two days after that we were moved back to Boston, and we didn't know what was wrong. During that long hospitalization, I kept telling Henry about home. I'd sing "Old McDonald" to him and tell him about all the animals he would see at the farm down the road. I told him how M. would teach him to feed a lamb a bottle. I talked about playing with the kids, working in our garden. And I told him about M. and the school bus. And I kept believing she would one day help him onto that bus.
Last September, it was me with empty arms and a big belly watching her get on that bus. The bus stop was on the side of the house rather than out front. She was more confident. And all I could think was that she would never hold Henry's hand as he got on that bus.
Today was a gorgeous, cool, dry, perfect fall morning. The sky was blue and clear. The day screamed September. I reveled in that and I delighted in Kathleen's laugh as we stood by the back door. Just a little piece of me was out front on the porch steps with a different baby in my arms, a littler baby, one who couldn't hold up his own head yet, but one who had just as much possibility ahead of him as the girl I held today.
On the first day of school, I can't help but think back to a lovely morning with my baby boy, a morning when my fear for him was gone, when I was just a regular mama who could expect that in five years she'd wave goodbye and wonder how her baby got so big.