We are walking across the blacktop playground, three astride, Christopher and I sandwiching Emmett, on the way toward kindergarten. We have walked to school this first morning, rather than riding our bikes. It seemed the natural choice, so obvious we never discussed it. It was the safest bet, owing to our lack of equilibrium this morning. We’re off kilter. We’re reeling. Our baby is starting kindergarten. It’s all we can do to stay upright.
Kids are running around us, teachers are standing at the front of the yard, waiting for their charges to settle down, line up. We’re passing this circus for the smaller confines of the kindergarten yard. I reach for Emmett’s hand. I need something to hold onto. I need those soft small fingers. I need to know he’s there. He pulls away before I have a chance to grasp him. I reach again, hoping maybe he’ll reconsider, some kindness will rise up in him to appease my need to hold him, to sense him whole, to get a full dose of him before he floats away, into his classroom, his space.
No luck. He holds his own hands. He walks forward. He wears his own backpack, black with skulls and crossbones, sagging toward the ground with the weight of school supplies. I take Christopher’s hand, and we follow.
Emmett walks into the classroom, finds his name tag necklace and puts his backpack on a hook like his teacher instructs. He sits on the rug. The teacher reads The Kissing Hand, a story of a raccoon worried about starting school. His raccoon mommy gives him a kiss in his palm, and tells him her love will be with him all day. Then she asks for a kiss in her palm, so she can keep his love with her all day.
The story ends, and the teacher tells the children to go get and give their kisses, so the mommies and daddies can go. Emmett’s face scrunches in revolt—a kiss!?!?!—as he marches toward us to comply with his teacher’s order. Christopher’s takes the right palm, and implants his kiss as deep as bone. Emmett wriggles, tries to pull away, but Christopher holds tight. I take the left palm and place a kiss with the intent that it last a lifetime. Emmett touches his lips, ever so faintly, to each of our palms, then dismisses us.
He returns to the rug. He faces his teachers, his back to us. Simple as that. He’s on his way. And, with a wave he doesn’t see, so are we.