“Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss

Today is your first day of kindergarten, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent who’s feeling a bit melancholy. There are thousands of us who have to admit that our babies are growing up today. You’re taking one step of many towards your independence – towards making your own decisions, learning on your own, being your own person. I keep thinking about bringing you home from the hospital and finally understanding that, when you’re a parent, you’d do anything for your children. That feeling is stronger than ever now, but today I have to accept that I can’t always be there to protect you. There will be times this year that school isn’t fun. You’ll struggle with new concepts and you’ll want to give up. You’ll get hit in the face with a soccer ball or swallow water at swimming and want to quit. Someone who you considered a friend will break your heart.

You’re *just* like I was at your age. Fun-loving. Trusting. Outgoing. Loud. Friendly. Confident. And like me, you put way too much stock in what others think of you. Sixth grade camp was ruined for me because one of the popular girls declared that she didn’t like me. I look back now and wish I could tell my 12-year-old self that one person’s opinion doesn’t define who you are. I didn’t think it started this early, but I need to be honest with myself. The mean girls are out there…and there will be some in your class. There’s probably a reason for it; life at home isn’t good. People are cruel to them. So they return the favor. And, realistically, I know that one of those girls will pick on you. When that happens, don’t let her crush your spirit. No matter what anyone says, be proud! Be original! Be you!

Be nice to everyone, no matter what. Never forget the difference you can make in someone else’s life with a touch, a smile, a hello. Don’t follow the crowd if they’re going somewhere you don’t want to go. If someone hurts your feelings, tell them. Ask people to play, and if they don’t want to, ask someone else. Watch for the kids who are shy or sad and invite them to join in. Your biggest lesson from preschool was this: “People who are sad you can help them out and find out what’s wrong and tell them something nice.” Remember that lesson, as it will apply throughout your life.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent, but when I look at you, I know I’ve done a few things right. Happy first day of kindergarten, Cassie Jean. We’re so very proud of you.