She entered the reception area, and warmly greeted the young woman stationed at the front desk.
“Hello, Angie,” she said. “How’s this semester going?”
“Great. My classes are hard, but I love my professors and I’m learning a lot,” Angie enthused. “They’re doing an art project right now.”
“Thanks,” she said as she initialed the logbook, noting the time — 3:15 p.m. Luckily, she did not have any parent-teacher conferences, teachers’ meetings or other obligations today, so she was able to leave school immediately after dismissing her students, tidying up her room, and posting tomorrow’s assignments on the blackboard. She glanced at the clock and smiled slightly as she resolved to prepare pork chops for dinner that evening. She was looking forward to a leisurely Thursday evening at home with her family.
As she walked down the hallway, she passed several brightly decorated classrooms. In one, the children were sitting in a circle on the floor, singing — or, in some cases, shouting — along with a recording. She stopped in the doorway for a moment and watched their wildly animated hand movements. The teacher turned and waved as she continued leading the enthusiastic chorus.
In another room, a group of older children also sat on the floor as the teacher, a rotund woman precariously perched on a small chair with very short legs that was designed for youngsters, read a story aloud. A couple of the boys were lying on their backs, quietly zooming small cars on the area rug next to them, seemingly paying no attention to the teacher or the tale she was telling.
Finally, she reached the large classroom at the end of the hallway. A large, multicolored “3? hung on the wall next to the door, underneath which was a cheerful sign: “Welcome to Miss Mimi’s 3’s.” She stopped and peeked through the window in the door, scanning the room until she found her child.
She was seated at a small table upon which crayons, colored pencils, small scissors, and glue sticks were strewn amid pages of construction paper. Several of the children seated around her were talking as they drew, colored, cut, and glued their respective creations. But her child was concentrating intensely, hunched over a large piece of white sketch paper. In her right hand, she held a colored pencil around which she was unable to complete wrap her chubby fingers. She was, rather, grasping the shank of the pencil about two inches above the lead, willing it around the surface of the paper awkwardly, but with focused determination. The fingers of her left hand curled under her palm to hold the paper in place, and she paid no attention to the noise generated by the other children, never looking up from her work during the brief moments that her mother silently observed her from the hallway.
As she watched her young daughter, the familiar emotions washed over her as they did nearly every weekday afternoon when she arrived at the preschool to retrieve her child. A mixture of thankfulness, wonder, and awe again enveloped her, reminding her why this was always her favorite time of the workday.
She shook her head slightly in disbelief as she studied the little girl who looked so much like the photographs taken of her as a child, marveling anew at the undeniable resemblance. Their hair was exactly the same color, with soft curls and bangs tumbling over their foreheads. Big, brown eyes were framed by long black lashes. Even their stubby noses were shaped virtually identically.
The sound of familiar footsteps behind her interrupted her reverie. She turned to see her husband approaching, a big grin on his handsome face.
“Great minds think alike!” he whispered as he kissed her lightly.
“What are you doing here?” she replied.
“Meeting wrapped up early and I decided not to go back to the office,” he explained. “I thought you had a parent-teacher conference today.”
“Canceled,” she said quietly as they peered through the glass together.
“What’s she drawing?” he asked quizzically.
“No clue,” she mused, “but whatever it is, it’s a masterpiece.”
“Absolutely,” he smiled. “She’s gifted, brilliant, and beautiful. Just like her mama.” He put his arm around her waist and drew her closer to him.
“The poor kid looks like a clone of me, that’s for sure,” she responded.
As they watched in silence for a few more moments, he felt her shiver slightly. “You o.k.?” he said without turning his gaze away from the classroom.
“Yeah,” she assured him, as she leaned into his shoulder. “Sometimes it’s just . . . so hard to believe.”
“I know,” he said, “but it’s totally different. Her life is totally different. You’re making sure of that.”
He turned slightly as he whispered gently in her ear. “You’re not your mother. You could never be like your mother.”
She inhaled deeply as she processed his familiar words yet again. “I’m not my mother,” she repeated in a barely audible whisper. “I know that.”
“Why are you thinking about all of that today?” he asked quietly. “Did something happen at school . . . something dredge up the memories?”
“No, it’s not that,” she began. “I think it’s just that she’s growing so fast and she’s almost the age I was when . . . ”
“Ah,” he said. “I get it.”
“I look at her sometimes and I can’t understand how anyone could . . . ” she shivered slightly again. “I hear my own voice in my head. I remember screaming ‘No, Mama, not again,’ and I just can’t imagine those words coming out of her mouth. The thought of somebody doing that to her . . .”
“Nobody ever will,” he stated matter-of-factly. “You are not your mother, you could never do the things to your daughter that your mother did to you, and that’s what counts. Right?” He gently reached out and turned her face to his, as he repeated, “Right?”
“Right,” she smiled as her mood brightened again. He kissed the end of her nose playfully. “I was planning to make pork chops for dinner. How does that sound?”
Before he could answer, they heard a familiar voice cry out, “Mama! Daddy!” They turned back to the window to see their daughter running toward the doorway where she had spotted them, the pencil and drawing abandoned on the table behind her.
They opened the door just in time for the ebullient little girl to practically jump into her father’s arms. “Oh, my goodness, did you grow while I was at work today?” he teased.
“Mama!” she squealed as she hugged her father’s neck with one arm and reached out to pull her mother close enough that she could hug her simultaneously. “You, too! You, too!” she pleaded.
“Me, too!” she responded joyfully as the three of them hugged and kissed. Just then, the teacher approached them, the drawing in her hand.
“You don’t want to forget this!” she said. The little girl’s father put her back down on the floor and she scampered over to the teacher to retrieve her art project, quickly turning back to her parents and exclaiming, “Look what I drawed!”
“Drew. Look what I drew,” her mother gently corrected. “You drew a beautiful picture. I’d like you to tell us all about it. Will you?”
“O.K. Well, see, this is . . . ” her voice faded as she walked down the hallway between her parents, animatedly pointing to the drawing as she held it up proudly with the other hand to interpret her work while they listened raptly.
None of them heard the teacher say, “See you tomorrow,” or noticed that she was smiling warmly as she turned her attention back to the other children. “Miss Mimi would like you all to start cleaning up now. It’s time to go outside and play.”