It started seven years ago with an infant and a sitter, then there was a carpeted corridor in a church preschool, and onto a sunny walk ending at the front steps of the elementary school. The second time doing the each of those for the first time hurt all over again. Now, with Finley, we’re at the tail end of preschool and I am recognizing drop off for what it is: a complete leap of faith.

This morning I dropped Finley off at the door. Her bag was packed to stay for lunch and her hair was pulled back to her exacting specifications.

“First the pink one mom, and then goes the green, the purple, the ‘nother green one and then an orange, not pink, orange.”

I moved my fingers gingerly through her hair, careful not to snag any hairs along her neck and draw tears. The elastic bands were looped around her fingers, little lassoes of expectation. As I gathered the sections of hair she sighed contentedly and craned to see her reflection. Tiny pricks of tears threatened at the corners of my eyes as she beamed and nodded in satisfaction.

“Don’t forget these,” she said proffering three garish, fuzzy bands with cascading strands of diamond shape beads.

“Ok,” I said, “which one?” She looked at me with comedic dismissiveness, “All of them of course,” she said swinging her pony tails behind her. I added them all and she declared herself ready to go.

I lifted her out of the jeep and one of the teachers came over from the door. “Hello Finley!” She chirped. Fin preened and whispered a shy, but extremely pleased, “Hi.” I asked if it would be ok for her to stay for the after-session. “Of course,” the teacher said. Finley looked up at her as she held out a hand. The look on her little face was so wide open and trusting it caught me by surprise. It’s not a look she directs at me. A part of me needed to pierce the moment, reinsert myself in what matter.  I mentioned her hair and that she had dreamt up the style herself. “So pretty,” the teacher said. Finley’s smile stretched from ear to ear and her eyes opened even wider. She was joy personified and it cut right through me.

My emotions roiled—so much hope in that one little face. I wanted to put my hand on the woman’s shoulder, to implore her not to let us down.

Acknowledge how significant this is, deserve her trust, respond to her delight. Be the person she thinks you are, if just for these few hours.

I kept my hands to myself and knelt down to kiss Finley. “Have fun, honey.” I drew the words out as if to accompany her to the door. She softly called out, “I will mama.” And then they were gone.

Climbing into my car I willed myself not to cry. Did I really need the extra two hours to work? Should I scratch it and pick her up at the regular time? As I approached the exit to the parking lot I realized how selfish I was being. The look on her face was not fear, it was pure anticipation. There was no thinking that I was failing as a mom or choosing work over parenting. She’d been skipping through the house all morning singing about getting to go to lunch bunch and asking if we’d seen the lunch she was taking. This was not failure on my part, it was achievement on hers.

The leap of faith in dropping her off was equal parts trusting it would be as exciting as she’d hoped and crossing my fingers that in coming home to me there might be some chance of her looking up at me with that same wide open, brimming-with-joy face.