At the beginning of the school year she wasn't happy about mommy leaving her at school. Since we're a cooperative, it was a natural thing for mom to accommodate that concern by simply staying with her. But ultimately mommy couldn't stay all day every day, so most of the school year has been a slow-motion process of letting go.

At first she dealt with her mother's departure by crying, choosing a spot in the hallway where she could have relative quiet and privacy. When I checked in with her, which I did frequently, she would pause long enough to tell me she would rather that I return to the classroom, but also to request that I pass on the message that she didn't want any of the other kids or adults to hang out with her either.

I did my best, but the other children had a hard time staying away: their innate compassion drew them to her. I would gently chase them off when I spotted them, but one day a girl got through my protective wall with a stuffed penguin that she offered as an idea for pacifying her friend. From that day onward, as she set herself up in her crying spot, I would ask if she wanted me to get the penguin for her, and she did, telling me each time that she "had one just like it at home."

After a few days, she let me know that it was okay for kids to come into her crying area, but that she wanted the adults, including me, to stay away. So there was a phase during which a friend would sit with her in the hallway, often bringing a plaything or two.

Then one day she arrived to announce that she had decided she wasn't going to cry about mommy today, although she would still miss her. And indeed she knew herself: it was a great day, where she spent most of her time playing with the playdough. These days she is quite comfortable in class, moving from station to station, activity to activity, putting the third teacher through her paces.

These days, the only vestige of her concern is that mommy tends to stick around for a few extra minutes each morning before they kiss bye-bye. Yesterday, as they parted ways, I noticed lipstick marks on the girl's cheek. I joked, "I didn't know you were old enough to wear lipstick," assuming that I would now need to retrieve a mirror to show her what I was talking about." But I was wrong. She was fully aware of that lipstick on her cheek. She smiled and said, presenting her cheek to me proudly, "I like to have a little bit of mommy stay with me at school."