This morning I took Sophia to her first day of third grade. She slipped her hand out of mine and ran ahead to exclaim hellos to her friends. Parents stood around and chatted while kids swarmed around us. Then the doors opened, and all the students turned toward to go inside. I dodged around a few of them to take my place next to Sophia again. She was holding hands with a friend and when I touched her arm she looked at me, startled.
She waved a shooing hand at me, subtly, by her side. "It's okay, Mom," she said, "you don't have to come." I kissed the top of her moving head and stepped away to watch her dance up the stairs.
At the grocery store, the eclipse began, and the sky started to shift to gray, ever so subtly. I was getting my groceries rung up, and the checker and bagger were talking to each other.
"I will be glad when this thing is over, just so people can stop talking about it."
I waved a hand at the dimming sky. "And look! Here it is, almost over."
The checker gave me a look between pity and contempt.
"Actually, it's just starting. Right now."
I nodded, but he was the one who didn't understand. Just beginning is almost the same thing as ending. He is far too young to know that. There's no use in trying to explain it. Life will show him soon enough.
I arrived to pick Sophia up early. It was a noon dismissal. Third grade was going to watch a live stream of the eclipse in their classroom, which she was looking forward to. Here we were going to see 92% coverage at 11:47, and I didn't want to be driving and miss it.
I saw a friend whose mom died this summer. She stood with a group of moms. Her kids milled around her, peeking at the sky cautiously through their boxy eclipse glasses. She was on the edge of the sidewalk, just where the concrete gives way to a sweep of green lawn. She smiled and chatted and looked through the glasses. Every so often she turned away, distracted, and stared at nothing. Everyone looked at the sky, and she stared into the middle distance, studying the nothing in front of her.
I made my way over to her to give her a hug. She hugged me back, tight. Before she even spoke, I could feel the weight of her shock.
You never really think your mom will die. How can you? She's always been there.
At the last minute, encouraged by the other moms around me, I went into the school to collect Sophia from her classroom. She had been interested in the idea of the live stream, so I wasn't sure she'd want to come. I peeked through the window, and the class was sitting on the floor, watching the disappearing sun on a laptop. I hesitated. But when I stuck my head in the door, Sophia's face lit up, and she scrambled off the floor to run over and take my hand. The teacher waved us permission to leave, and we slipped out.
Back outside, another mom gave Sophia some eclipse glasses, and she turned her face to the watery light. The air had grown cool and the sky looked like a storm was bearing down on us. I watched her as the minutes slipped past, and the light dimmed, then brightened, so slow it seemed you must be imagining it.
Soon the sunlight grew strong enough to throw crescents through the shadows of the leaves of the tree next to us. I moved her into the strange light, to try to take pictures of it on her face. She came around to look at the pictures, and for a moment she leaned against me.
"I'm so glad you came to get me, Mom." She stood there for just a minute, warm and soft against me. Then her friends started streaming out of the school, and she was gone.