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A Sudden Reminder That My Kids Aren't the Same Person

I try to keep the focus of my parenting writing on me—my responses to, and impressions of, what I encounter—rather than overshare the private lives of my children, who have no idea what I do for a living and certainly don't want to discover in 10 years that every embarrassing anecdote from their childhoods can be read about online.

Because of that, I sometimes check a box on a topic because I've already covered it with my son, because he's my oldest and, therefore, the child with whom I've experienced most of my motherhood firsts, as though each experience isn't its own with each of my children.

Today, I noticed for the first time that I sometimes do that in life, as well.

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In 2014, my son started preschool, and I was very nervous—for me. We live in the Netherlands, and I was beating myself up (still am) for having not mastered the language well before walking into the classroom and hoping to make a good impression on, or at least come across as normal to, the other parents and his teachers. I was afraid we hadn't prepared him enough, either, because we only speak English at home.

I was anxious about his making friends, which was silly because his best friend was assigned to the same class (any dimestore psychologist will tell you I was afraid I would feel like the outcast). And I was nervous about confusing the dismissal times—it's different each day—or sending him with the wrong lunch or gym shoes. I didn't want to embarrass him.

It was all kind of about him, but it was mostly about me. I realize that now as my second child, my oldest daughter, is preparing to start school next month. In the Netherlands, children begin elementary school—basisschool—the day after they turn 4, whenever that happens to fall in the school year.

My daughter has a different personality from my son and a different way of handling stress. But that doesn't mean she isn't feeling it.

I've prepared my daughter by letting her know she's nearly a big girl now and that she cannot wear her Sophia the First dress to school. It feels nothing at all like the nerve-wracking event of my son's first day, because I get how it works better now. I'm far more confident.

And my daughter is generally very confident, too, so it's kind of easy not to worry about her. It's not that I have big concerns about my son, either, but while he leans toward caution and is somewhat of a perfectionist (he can be very hard on himself when he makes a mistake), my daughter just goes for things, and frankly doesn't care that much if it doesn't work out how others expect.

She's a risk-taker, an explorer, an artist.

Because she's not particularly sensitive, I don't fret so much about her getting her feelings hurt. She plays with other children and is quite happy to do so, but other times she's just as satisfied by herself. Once, I asked her if she'd played with anyone at school that day, and she said, "No. I don't have to every day. Not everybody gets to be my friend all the time."

Of our three children, she's the most resilient and outwardly assertive. She is the one who will tell the teenage boys playing soccer in the playground that she and her brother are going to play there, too, and that they have to kick the ball more softly or they might hurt her little sister.

She's also the most empathic. If either of her siblings want anything she has, she's the most likely to share. If they do something to hurt her and we insist they apologize—like when her sister was big in her biting phase—she'll say, "That's OK, Mommy. It didn't hurt."

It's easy to assume she's not rattled by things, because she seems so comfortable with herself in the world. A force of a nature, as a friend of mine calls her. A princess who climbs trees, as a neighbor observed.

Today I was filling out a questionnaire about my daughter for the school. They want to know how I would describe her as a baby, whether she was shy, cheerful and the like. They want to know whether she has siblings and what their relationship is like.

There are questions about her emotional stability, what makes her sad or angry, and what things they can do to calm her should she be upset. There are also questions about the things she likes to do, whether she prefers to be with older or younger children, and the maximum number of pieces in a puzzle she can complete.

I know she's ready for this, but I also know now I shouldn't assume that because someone is brave they are never apprehensive.

As I was filling out the form, it hit me that this first day of school thing is still a big deal. I was passing on all the key information one should have before receiving my child and becoming an independent (from me) part of her development. When I did this for my son, I was so focused on my own neuroses, I was just glad I understood what was being asked.

My daughter has a different personality from my son and a different way of handling stress. But that doesn't mean she isn't feeling it. We keep talking at home about this new phase that she will be entering in terms of what will change for her: you will have to make new friends, you will continue to play but begin more formal learning, you will not wear your tiara. And I've realized that we're just assuming she's got no qualms about it. We're also making it sound like a bit of a drag.

As the day approaches, I'm noticing she's a bit more easily upset. My daughter often sneaks into our bed at night—and by "sneaks" I mean she barges into our room and bangs the door behind her before climbing in beside me and complaining that I'm squashing her or my blanket is too warm.

But last night she came in and stood quietly next to the bed. She said, "Mommy, can you hold me really tightly?"

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I know she's ready for this, but I also know now I shouldn't assume that because someone is brave they are never apprehensive.

I'm going to have a couple of weeks with my daughter at home before her first day, and I'm going to keep that in mind and keep things positive in the time we have between now and school. And I'll let her wear her mermaid costume every damn day of that time if that's what she what she wants to do.

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Photographs by: Tracy Brown Hamilton

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