My 5-year-old reached for my hand as we walked across Uniontown Roadtoward her kindergarten classroom at Westminster Elementary School.

Ah-ha, I thought, she is not as confident as I had believed.

But only now, days later, do I realize that she reached for my hand more for me than for herself. Sometimes she's like that.

"You're going to be sad, Daddy," she surmised the day before school startedas we talked about her going into kindergarten and the first day of school.

"Yeah, I think so," I told her.

I had heard the storiesabout parents crying as they dropped off their children on the firstday of school. I don't remember my mother crying (nor do I remember the first day of kindergarten) but I suspected I could become one of these sentimentalists.

Because I did feel a sadness about this child, my oldest daughter, walking off to school every morning. There has been a great deal of comfort in knowing that Courtney has been at home with her mother every day, where scraped knees and emotional wounds are quickly treated.

In the vast scheme of things, I realize, this going-to-school business is no big deal. But I do know that life will never be the same with her crossing this milestone.

Yes, our morning routine is disrupted. Instead of just getting her 9-year-old brother, Nathan, off to school, we now have another to get on the way.

But this has really posed no problem since Courtney is usually the first one up, plopped on our bed at 7 a.m., ready for breakfast. She's always full of chatter and energy and is the first one dressed and ready to go out the door.

The first morning of school I came out of the shower to find her sitting on my bed, dressed in her new school clothes, backpack in tow.

She smiled and asked, "How do I look?"

Gulp. "Pretty," I replied.

Day two was the same, except thatCourtney informed us that she wanted to walk to school by herself. She wanted to walk and talk with her new friends. When we didn't comply, she informed us on day three that she would walk into her room by herself.

"I know how to find it," she explained. "I remember whereto hang my coat and put my book bag. I don't want any parents walking me to my class. OK, folks?"

We let her go.

Her determination is evident and I have no doubts that she will succeed in school.

Underscoring the sadness I feel is not so much that she's actually going to school but that time is catching up with us. She's 5 already. It seemed like only last fall that she was 3 and I walked her to preschool. I remember vividly warm days and her observations -- like how leaves falling from the trees resembled "monster hands" coming toward us.

Since kindergarten lasts only a half day, I still am able to spend lunch with her. I still can enjoy days when that face greets me as I walk through the door to find our living room turned into her playroom, where I'm forced to join her in a tea party or in a restaurant that's always out of everything.

While I struggle with learning to let go, I am consoled by the fact that it will be at least four years before her infant sister Chelsea starts school. Of course, that thought also harbors fear.

Like her older brother and her sister, Courtney has colored my days with warm hues. I feel peace and security.

And I'm not ready to let the coloring fade.

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