Here's what I remember from our third (and youngest) daughter's first day of kindergarten:
She had a tantrum about her socks. Socks were important to Nancy — the fit, the color, and their ability stay up and not puddle around her ankles.
And those first-day socks did, alas, puddle.
Then there was the cereal issue. At 5, Nancy had some pretty clear specifications about cereal. But on that day of days, her older sisters, preoccupied themselves with first-day jitters, had polished off the Cheerios. Yet another Nancy tempest.
First days of school live in the nerve endings, and this one was surely no exception.
I had been through this kindergarten ritual twice before. And I had done it myself after my big sister, the savvy second grader, had told me that the kindergarten teacher was really mean, and that she would make me print my name. And I didn't know how to print.
Seven decades later, I can still remember my wrenching sobs at our kitchen table, and, later, an encore of tears when my mother left with all the other moms when the teacher, who really wasn't mean at all, said it was time.
Even though she tried to hide it, I remember that my mother was crying, too.
All of this has been cascading through my head because September carries me back to so many endings. I go into a kind of mourning for what was, and feel first-day envy — and sympathy — for those who are where I once was.
Loving a child is always commingled with blurred endings and beginnings. And I flunked "letting go" big time.
But most of all with Nancy, the last Friedman daughter.
She made it laceratingly clear that I was never quite prepared for those "lasts."
We had this bedtime ritual, Nancy and I. We would always have a cuddle time, followed by sacred rituals.
Her room's window shades had to be perfectly even. Her love object, "Teeny Teddy," had to be nearby and her nightlight angled just so.
Only then did we launch her "mouth story." That meant I made it up — and could morph into a drama queen for this audience of one.
Frankly, I needed those rituals as much as Nancy did because her older sisters already were heartbreakingly independent.
And then one day, somewhere around second grade, Nancy dismissed me from these bedside rituals. Just like that.
She had learned to read and didn't need my mouth story. She arranged her own shades and lamp. I'd been summarily fired from a job I loved.
Somehow, while I'd gone through similar endings with her sisters, it hadn't hurt as much. But baby birds fly free on their schedule, not ours.
I've confronted seemingly endless endings.
There was the first Friedman daughter to go to college. Then the middle one. And then a last goodbye in a grassy quad when Nancy walked off into her new life. Had she looked back, she would have seen her parents holding on to each other for dear life.
But it wasn't over yet.
The seven grandchildren I cradled in my astonished arms were suddenly off to school. Each time, I prayed their teachers would understand their foibles, recognize their fears and forgive them for their flaws.
Two of those grandkids are now out of college.
At a recent family gathering on LBI, we sat at the gigantic farm table in a rental home that is now the site of our annual late-summer retreat.
I looked around those faces and swallowed a lump in my throat as I realized these precious times would not go on forever. Not with some of them planning to be in foreign countries, on scattered campuses, and settled who knows where as they seek their own destinies.
No, there are no more first days of school for my husband and me. The generations push us forward.
This I've leaned: The current of a parent's life is not a lazy caress in still waters. It's far more like being swept away into rushing rapids.
And so much of it begins back at the kindergarten gate, the place where those goodbyes begin — and then just go on and on.