It is the beginning of September, the first day of school, and the sun is flirting with making an appearance. Butterflies fill my stomach, but in a good way. Today marks my four-year-old daughter’s first day of attending the “big school” at the end of our street. She’s wearing the robin’s-egg-blue dress I bought for her birthday earlier this year with the silver filigree design down the front — an echo of her Middle Eastern roots. My husband Shakil and I leave the house to drop her off together. With her marching gait, laser-beam gaze, and set mouth, she seems fine. Better off than her mama.
I feel alone. The paralyzing isolation I felt during the early years of motherhood has given way to tenuous new connections with many other parents — through daycare, local Facebook groups, and community gatherings — but I’m still off balance. Despite reaching middle age, despite having achieved professional success, despite all the wonderful things and people in my life, this moment undoes me.
The sight of monkey bars and green playing field makes me feel tight and floaty at the same time. I know it’s because a part of me was left behind in a place just like this, where I learned that in order to survive I had to make myself disappear. I can’t catch my breath. I feel dislocated.
My daughter runs into the play area without a backward glance, and I call her back to give her one last hug. “Enjoy your first day at your new school, Baba. I love you so much,” I whisper. I can’t tell if it’s her or some earlier version of myself that I watch twist and spin away, the past collapsing into the present. All I know is that my daughter’s story begins with my story. And my story begins with my people.