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Challenge: Back to School

A Tale of Two Kindergarteners

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

When my son started kindergarten two years ago, it wasn't good. There was crying. And pleading. And death grips. I knew this was not out of the ordinary. I knew starting kindergarten could be overwhelming for a lot of kids. I knew riding the bus could be downright scary for a little person who still needed me to wipe his rear after going #2. I knew. I just didn't want it to be that way.

This was a quick synopsis of his first four days.

Day 1: My son was in fairly good spirits on the morning of his first day of school. We snapped pictures for posterity.

first day of kindergarten

He sure looks ready, doesn’t he?

But this picture will forever be a misrepresentation of how his first day really went:

The bus pulled up. He took two steps on, turned around, took two steps off, then grabbed onto me for dear life. My husband picked him up and physically placed him on the bus. The bus driver quickly shut the door and then drove off with my little guy sobbing and searching for a seat on the already crowded vehicle of elementary school torment. Then I cried.

Day 2: The bus pulled up. My son wouldn’t even get near it. I picked him up and tried to put him on it. Larry the Bus Driver asked the kids in the front seat to scoot over and make some room so my son could sit near him. The kids just stared blankly. My son clawed my neck in fear. I apologized and told Larry the Bus Driver that I would just take him to school myself. My son cried when I dropped him off at his classroom. So did I.

Day 3: We didn't even try the bus. I took him to school. He walked in already whimpering, which quickly escalated to the cry that comes from a place so deep that it doesn’t even make a noise when it comes out. His teacher had to pull him off of me. I cried walking out of the school.

Day 4: He started getting weepy during breakfast. Obviously, the bus was no longer an option I even considered. Upon entering the school, we had a repeat performance of the day before.

I hated it. It made my heart all mopey that my son's anxiety over separating from me was getting in the way of the sheer excitement he should have been feeling about kindergarten. I knew it wouldn't always be this way. This too shall pass. Isn't that what they say? And I guess I should have felt very flattered that he loved being around me so much. ..even though I really sucked at playing Transformers. But in the moment, all I could do was hurt for him and curse my parenting that lacked a way to make it instantly better.

I wished that instead of being the kindergartener who was afraid to go to school, he could have been the kindergartener he was at home: the confident, energetic, crazy, fun one. I would have loved to help those two little kindergarteners change places…and not just because I wanted a turn with the kid who was apparently really quiet and followed rules.

But no one gets a magic wand when they get their parenting gig; I couldn't conveniently “Freaky Friday” the situation. And I was unfortunately not a sitcom parent who just needed to cue the sentimental music and deliver some wise and carefully crafted words that put everything into perspective for my child. The real answer was a hard one to swallow. It was simply going to take time, consistency, love, and many, many brave faces each time the teacher in the drop-off line had to physically remove my child from my car and walk him into school.

So that's what I did.

Then one day, those two kindergarteners slowly began trading places, or at least found a way to co-exist with each other. It didn't happen overnight. And sometimes it was one step forward, two steps back. But his teacher and I, we loved my son all the way through.

For us, the ending was a happy one. The anxious, sad little kindergartener pulled a Sydney Carton and allowed my little Charles Darnay kindergartener, full of life and curiosity, to be free to enjoy all the bliss that came with a really great day at school.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...”

A version of this post originally appeared on Kelly's blog, Are You Finished Yet?

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