My first day of kindergarten—twenty-four years ago—was a few days late. The real first day had come and gone while my family was trucking across the United States in a U-Haul. I can remember my mother taking me into the school’s office to be registered, and then to my class, where a crowd of peers was waiting. My mom has told me several times how brave I was. Though I was a mommy’s girl in a new town, in a new state, and going to school for the first time, I entered the room with confidence. I instinctively knew kindergarten was nothing to fear.Many children aren’t so confident, my husband tells me. He says the janitors at the school where he is employed come to work after summer break expecting to clean up at least one scared child’s pile of vomit. In all my years of schooling, I never could relate to those worried children. Back-to-school was always a happy thing. Until today. When I woke up this morning, I was looking forward to sending my oldest child to school for the first time. It was to be the end of an era—in both her life and in mine. For her, the end of being sheltered by the person who loves her most in the world, the end of long, lazy days playing house with her little sister, the end of freedom from responsibility. I felt bad for my little girl, but for me, the end was really just a beginning: the beginning of free babysitting. My poor daughter seemed nervous all morning as we prepared for afternoon kindergarten. While soaking in the tub, she told me her stomach hurt a little and I’d better go get the throw-up bowl. I raced to the cupboard, wondering whether I might return to find an English muffin drifting in her bath water. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. At lunch time I was relieved to see she had a normal appetite, but afterward she told me her tummy was hurting again. I told her how nice her teacher had seemed at the ice cream social, and how fun it would be to be in the same class as two of her playmates. Meanwhile, I was hoping that if she threw up it would be the janitor, not me, who had to scoop up her tuna fish splat. As we set out toward the bus stop, I watched my soon-to-be kindergartener apprehensively. She smiled as she asked to push the baby’s stroller. She marched along with a smug look on her face. Perhaps there was nothing to worry about, I thought. Soon she’d be rolling along in a little yellow bus full of happy kindergarteners. And perhaps I would have a peaceful afternoon without any shouting or singing in my house. We arrived at the stop sign and waited quite a while for the bus. Eventually we sat down on the pavement. I was beginning to think we had missed it when my daughter exclaimed, “There it is! There it is!” We watched as an enormous bus whizzed by. “I’m not sure if it’s yours or not,” I replied uneasily. The monstrous vehicle was stopped at a light now, and we waited anxiously to see where it would go next. The light changed, and it turned. In our direction! It was coming to get her! I jumped to my feet and shouted frantically, “There it is! There it is!” I gave my daughter a panicked look as a wash of hormones surged into my nasal passages. “Give me a kiss and hug!” I yelled. The yellow beast was barreling toward us now. My five-year-old threw herself into my arms, then her sister’s arms, then her baby brother’s arms. The beast lurched to a stop only a few feet away, and I watched sorrowfully as it opened a giant mouth and swallowed my little girl. I smiled my best lie and blew her kisses as she waved triumphantly through the window. With a belch of diesel breath, the beast blew away, and I turned to walk home. As I pushed the baby’s stroller up the hill, I reminded myself that kindergarten is nothing to fear and there was almost no chance of tuna fish being splattered on her classroom carpet. There was a real possibility, though, that some salt water would be splattered on the pavement.