It’s a milestone for so many families — dropping your child off for their first day of preschool. Some kids may cry as their parent drives away; others won’t notice their absence, too busy exploring an exciting new place. As for parents, many moms will shed tears as they watch their child toting an over-sized backpack into the classroom. I will be that mom next week. My surviving triplet begins her educational journey, embarking on her first year of school. I’ll be that mom crying as my child goes off to preschool, but my tears are for a different reason.
Over this summer, I’ve had many conversations with my 3-year-old about starting school. We picked out crayons and other school supplies and daydreamed about her new classmates. I even tried using it as a tool to help potty train her. But, as I watched my child try on her new fall clothes, it hit me: Only one of my children is going off to school.
I gave birth to triplets in 2013, yet only one baby eventually came home with us from the hospital. During my pregnancy, I envisioned our future as a family of five: controlled chaos with three children ruling our house. I pictured Peyton and her identical sister playing together, harassing their brother as he tried to partake in the fun. I pictured family dinners around the table, sharing our trials and tribulations of the day, and I pictured the first day of school with three little children, each one holding up a sign announcing they were entering a new grade.
But life threw my family a curveball, forcing us to navigate through a dark road after two of our children died. The loss of a child changes your life forever. While not always visible, I carry the loss of my children deep inside me, as if it’s tattooed on my heart. As the start of the school year approaches, I have spent many nights lying awake, my mind racing with a mix of emotions. I have caught myself bursting into tears at the thought of this major milestone. The first day of school will always be bittersweet. Instead of lining up three little backpacks, only one will be sitting by the front door. And as I say goodbye to my daughter at the drop off, I’ll always wonder what could have been. My heart aches as I think about my two children in heaven. They should be here. My daughter should have her siblings by her side.
While next week will be polluted by grief, it will also be filled with hope and joy. A year ago, the thought of my daughter starting school had not even crossed my mind. Born more than 17 weeks premature, no one expected Peyton to lead a healthy life. Science and statistics were against us. During the early days in the Nicu, my husband and I hoped for the best, but we braced for the worst. Yet, time and time again, our micro-preemie shocked her doctors. A year ago, our house was a walk-in clinic; several therapists making weekly visits to help boost our daughter’s development. Peyton continued to make strides, eventually graduating from every therapist and specialist. Earlier this summer, doctors shared in the excitement as our miracle child officially caught up.
A week from today, my daughter heads off to pre-school. It’s guaranteed that many tears will be shed; some happy and some sad. As I watch her walk into the classroom, a sense of pride will mask the grief. This little girl who was once attached to oxygen tubes and wires, is now breaking free; her independence symbolic of all that she has overcome in her short life. As I pull away from the school for the very first time, tears of happiness will be pouring down my face. My strong-willed child has achieved something no one thought possible, becoming an inspiration to everyone who crosses her path. As I leave my daughter that first day of school, I will be beaming with pride. I’m grateful for my beautiful and ambitious child and I’m proud of the mother she has helped me become.