Dear Mom (or Dad) Who is Crying in their Car,
I see you, because I was you last year. I led my first little baby by the hand to her waiting school bus. She climbed up the steps, lunchbox by her side, book bag bigger than she was. I swore she just learned to walk a few months ago.
Panic weighed down my chest like a brick as I watched her disappear into the big yellow school bus. I pasted on a big smile and waved frantically as the bus pulled away hoping to catch a glimpse of her little face in the window. Then as it disappeared out of sight, I sank into my car, the tears I held back welling up in my eyes and rolling down my face.
This happened the second day too, as she said, “Really mom, I can walk to the bus myself!” and marched into the black rectangular space of the open door as it rattled shut behind her. My husband looked on incredulously with an expression that said: really, again.
It’s not that she wasn’t prepared. She was as ready for kindergarten as any kid could be and so excited to begin school. Just a few months earlier I looked on as she raced around the house gathering up all of her pencils, pens, and crayons and herding them into her character book bag. I had tried to explain to her that it was only May and school did not start until September. I felt like it was a long way off with preschool graduations, summer camps, and swimming lessons still on the horizon.
Then I blink, and it’s August.
Looking back on that time, as I head to school with my now 1st grader, I want to offer you some encouragement, to let you know that it gets better. So, here are some things that I Iearned last year while my daughter was in Kindergarten:
There are Teachers and School Staff who Will Care for Your Kid Like He or She is Their Own
Each day when she comes home, my daughter tells me stories. One day she tells me that her gym teacher is the best shoe tyer around, a real professional. He ties so many shoes each day that he can do it faster than anyone! Almost daily, she tells a story about another bathroom accident -- teachers doing their best to divert the kids attention quickly while it is cleaned up to avoid embarrassment. BATHROOM ACCIDENTS, I think -- I can hardly deal with those when they happen with my own children!
As I walked through the halls on my day to volunteer, I would see teachers wipe the noses of sick children and comfort them when their small shoulders droop and shake from crying over something that happened at home the previous evening.
I see janitors as they cleaned floors and desks when a child got sick in the classroom. When my daughter’s bus had yet another outbreak of lice, I watched in horror as the school nurse and her teacher inspected each kid’s hair with a fine tooth comb and a bright light and looked carefully for the crawly little buggers while somehow making them think that it was a fun game, a hunt, and nothing was out of the ordinary.
When my daughter had a loose tooth that hung by a thread and she was probably constantly distracting herself by pulling on it, having avoided that side of her mouth for weeks while chewing, her teacher convinced her to give it the final tug. The school nurse placed it in a tiny box and she carried it home proudly, setting it delicately under her pillow for the tooth fairy.
And somehow, with all of this going on, even though I know it sounds impossible, your child will learn!
You Will be Amazed at What they Learn
Have you ever tried to read with one kid while your other kid plays or get work done at home while your children are there? It is entirely unthinkable, yet elementary teachers make make miracles like this happen every day! If you go into the classroom you will experience the marvel that is twenty plus five and six year old children completing a task in centers while the teacher works with a few children in a reading group. Like the conductor of a three ring circus, the teacher sits at the front of the room barely motioning to each small group of children, who accomplish the task in front of them on their own.
You will see each little hand wave eagerly as they bounce up and down in the reading circle yearning to be the first called on to answer a question. You may also see tears and frustration as they struggle to learn new things, change deep-seated behaviors, or become aware of the others around them. But trust me when I say you will see your child grow and flourish like never before.
Their Confidence will Grow Through Becoming More Independent
I observed one-by-one as the mysterious universe of things that only mommy and daddy knew opened up to my daughter over the course of her Kindergarten year. First, she learned to read. She could now discern labels and directions, and the signs on buildings. She learned to open her own lunch containers and to put the straw in even those tricky “pouch” juice boxes. After practicing many times and peering inside to check the right from the left, she proudly formed the loops just right, finally able to tie her own shoes. Then she learned to tell time, reminding me that we really needed to leave the house if we wanted to get anywhere.
So, new kindergarten parent, do you see those teachers, assistants, counselors, nurses, principals, janitors, and school staff? You will not have enough words to express your gratitude to them at the end of this school year. Watching my daughter's self-confidence and self-sufficiency grow over the past year made me happier than you can imagine. But this is also part of why you will see me again in a few years holding back tears (or not) in the parking lot.
You see, mom (or dad) who is crying in their car, I will be you again in three short years, as I watch my youngest baby go off to Kindergarten. Please wave to me as you go by. I am not crying because I am unsure of the teacher’s ability to take my child and teach them more than I can imagine, love them like their own, and increase their confidence and self-sufficiency more than I ever could have. I am crying because I know that they will do all of these things. In fact, I am confident that her teachers will do such a good job that the baby that I held in my arms just a short time ago, that was once a part of me, will eventually be big enough and confident enough to go off into the world without me.
It is the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. So, I will sit in my car and cry -- sad for my loss, but overjoyed for my daughter’s gain. Because I know that with her teacher’s help this year and in subsequent years, she, like her older sister will take one step closer to the happy independent person that I want her to become. But in order for that to happen, I have to let go of her little hand.