On her seventh day of school, my kindergartener doesn’t cry.
It was a long road to this day. For the first six days of school, we experienced varying degrees of screaming, clinging, running back inside our house and slamming the door, and expressing general displeasure with the whole idea of school.
“I wanna stay home with YOU, Mommy!”
“But Charlotte, you are bored out of your mind every day of the summer. You hate it.”
“No I don’t. I LOVE IT.”
“Well we can spend every afternoon after school and all weekend together. You’ll be tired of me in five minutes, you’ll see.”
“Nooooo.” (Throws pillows. Hides in room. Gasps for air through unhappy lungs.)
It’s been a whole thing. She required a lot of grace this week, and so did I.
At our school, kindergarteners are allowed to bring a parent into their classroom for the first day, but after that, they say goodbye to parents at the front gate and walk to class alone or with a staff member. This is for parents’ benefit I’m sure, as well as for the sanity of teachers and school staff. But it is heartbreaking for our fragile little mom-and-dad hearts.
As I send my daughter through the gate to her classroom, little tears still in her eyes, I imagine what the school must look like to her three-foot-tall self. The buildings are high, even to me. The hallways are longer than anything she’s ever seen before. And there are 800 elementary students attending this school.
I would be so overwhelmed being dropped off in this big new world; I can only imagine how she feels.
As she turns a corner and disappears, I see other parents lining the fence around the playground, peeking through the slats, scanning for their children on the swings or in the sandbox. They look as anxious as I feel.
I decide not to stay. It’ll only make me sad, and that’ll make her sadder because she picks up on my emotions like a little sponge.
I know this is her day, and it’s not my job to prevent her from experiencing something hard. This is the good kind of hard. She’s going to rise to meet it and grow so much in the process.
It’s not my job to protect her from every challenge.
It’s my job to be her support, her rock, her biggest fan, and her safe place to start and land home each day.
It’s my job to keep my own body calm in this new routine.
It’s my job to create structures in our day to support her and rituals she can count on.
From a practical place this means I get up an hour before we need to leave for school so I can have tea and sit in the dark, say a prayer for a moment before the kids get up, so I can share my calm with them. I take care of myself first.
I give them enough time to get up slowly, drink water, and have breakfast. We lay out their clothes the night before so it’s easy to find them. We fill the water bottles and store them in the fridge the night before, line up backpacks and shoes by the door.
On the walk to school, I remind my daughter and myself:
“School is beautiful. We are lucky to have such a great place to learn and grow. You have a kind, wonderful teacher. You have a class full of beautiful friends. It’s going to be a good day, and I can’t wait to see you at the end of it!”
My son’s first-grade teacher last year gave us this advice: “If you do nothing else to support your child’s education, talk positively about school and positively about your child’s teacher. Even if you don’t agree with everything they say or do. Your opinions matter and the way you talk about school shapes your child’s mind and makes them either receptive to learning or reject it. Choose support.”
When we are calm, when we are supportive, our kids shine.
Today my daughter walked through the front gate standing tall and holding her big brother’s hand. She didn’t look back at me. I watched her fade into the sea of other kids, other people’s babies, and I think, I am so proud of ALL of them.
Our babies can do this (and so can we).