Her blond hair was neatly tied up with red bows in two pigtails that I had bribed her to wear with the promise of a new Barbie, just on this first day of kindergarten.

She hated bows in her hair, but she was my only daughter, and I had lived for the day when I had a little girl with bows.

Her Catholic jumper nearly hung to her ankles, knee high white socks with navy blue Mary Jane’s.

She is all ready for her first day, and I am beaming from ear to ear with the joy I am feeling, although a part of me has this pain inside my heart that she really cannot be starting school.

She is so little.

There will be many days like this to come in the next 12 years.

Her L.L. Bean backpack with the purple butterfly and her name embroidered, nearly as big as her, is placed in the front seat next to me, along with the first of many lunches.

She and her brother, a pro at this school stuff already, hop in the back of the minivan.

She is so excited about her first day of school and yet I can see the worry on her face as I watch her in the rearview mirror.

It is the same expression I feel on my own face.

As we pull up in the car line, things go south fast as she has a quick change of heart. “I don’t think I’m going” she blurts out.

I pull quickly into a parking spot near the front door and gently convince my little one to reconsider.

The tears are building in those big blue eyes and I am doing everything I can to hold mine back as well. If mine fall, it’s all over. We head down the hall and straight to Sister Trudy’s class. It is a beautiful classroom and you feel the love and happiness.

She immediately and without hesitation puts grips around my leg that will take an army of Marines to pry her lose.

The wailing begins, not from me, yet. I save mine for the car ride to work.

Sister Trudy convinces her how much fun it will be and how much she will learn, and within seconds, I dart out the door. We have success, our first day of school.

I hurry to my car; seatbelt buckled and manage to make it safely out of the parking lot before I finally let the tears flow.

I don’t know why I am filled with all this emotion, but it will be the same feeling I would have eight years later when I drop her off for her first day at Bishop England.

She cannot be attending high school already; she looks so small among those teenagers.

Shouldn’t she still be climbing that big magnolia tree in my front yard? Where has time gone?

As a working mother with a full-time career and soccer games, and dance, and homework, all the busyness robs you of time.

Time is a silent thief that sneaks up on us, quietly, until one day we wake up and realize that it’s almost over.

I didn’t let her know for sure that I was getting her that little black car she wanted, but I’m sure she knew it was coming.

I picked her up from school and we headed home. There it was in the driveway when we pulled up.

All I saw was those big pearly whites shining back at me.

The next morning, as we got ourselves ready for the day, I realized our morning commutes together were over.

All the years of me hurrying her along and listening as she told me over and over that her hair looked awful were over.

She hopped in her car, so excited and eager to be independent and pulled out of the drive and there was that feeling again.

It can best be explained as happiness and sorrow all at the same time, the feeling that you have accomplished your goal as a parent, but not quite ready to let go.

Our senior year is upon us and with school starting, I am filled with the excitement the school year brings, football games (Go Bishops) and her senior prom, and lastly, graduation.

I will savor this last school year each and every day, as I know it will be my last.

The last year I wake early to make school lunch and stay up late to help with studies or make that run to Staples at 8 p.m. for a poster board.

One day last year when she pulled into her parking spot at Bishop England, she sent me a text message, “I miss riding to school with you, Mom!”

Thank you, darling, I needed to hear that.

Donna Ford lives in Summerville with her 16-year-old daughter and her son, who is a senior at the College of Charleston. She is general manager at the Embassy Suites downtown and enjoys reading and writing.