As I waited for my healthy dinner of take-out tacos from a gas station to be prepared, I scrolled through my Facebook feed, and I came across a post from Assignment: Mom, my latest mom blog obsession. A few weeks ago, as parents were posting happy pictures of their children smiling with their “First Day of (name the grade)” signs, she posted a picture of her sitting on the floor with her minutes-from-becoming-an-official-kindergartener. Her daughter was terrified and instead of putting on a fake smile for the camera, she teared up and turned to her mama for support – as any five year old should be able to do. The moment was captured on camera by one of her older children, and the post she wrote about that moment was moving.
The original post immediately brought back memories of bringing N to her first day of pre-school. Not because N was terrified, but because after I dropped her off, I sat in the car and cried.
Memories of N’s first day of nursery – again, she wasn’t nervous, but because after I dropped her off, I sat in my classroom and cried.
Memories of N’s first day of Pre-K – this year, she didn’t even wave goodbye. She just skipped right off to be with her friends. I didn’t cry that year. I was prepared.
Kindergarten? More of the same from her. Not even a glance back at me. Cue the waterworks.
It wasn’t until N was entering first grade at a new school with new friends and new teachers – a school where I didn’t work, where she wouldn’t see me in the hallways on her way to specials, where she wasn’t certain that I was just upstairs with the older kids – when she needed a little extra loving. Being N, she didn’t ask to climb in my lap or tear up. She tried to be tough. She tried to pretend she was excited. But I’m her Mama – I knew that the extra bedtime hug the night before was her way of saying that she was nervous. I knew that her squeezing my hand as we walked down the hallway to meet her new teacher was her way of holding on to security, safety, and extra love. I knew that look in her eyes, the one that nearly begs me to stay, to stand outside her classroom all day just to be sure she’s OK. Those quiet moments as we hung her backpack inside her new cubby weren’t because she didn’t have anything to say – they were because she was nervous, unsure of where she belonged in the new group of kids. And within an instant, she was greeted by a new friend who dragged her off into the new classroom to introduce her to all of the girls who would quickly become her best friends.
And I went to the car and cried.
I thought that this year would be easier.
For crying outloud, she’s going into second grade,I thought to myself. We’ve been at this game for six years now.
It never gets easier.
The night before school started, N told me she didn’t want to go to school the next day. This is something I’ve never heard her say before.
“I hope I get your cold so I can stay home sick,” she said as we were getting ready for bed.
What? That’s a 180 from the girl who would cry when she was sick because it meant she would have to miss school.
“Are you nervous about tomorrow, sweetheart?” I asked.
:: Slow head nod with the big puppy dog eyes::
“Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry to hear that! Why are you nervous?”
“Because I haven’t seen my friends all summer and no one is going to remember me. It’s like I’m going to be the new kid again,” she said softly.
It was hard to stifle my laugh, but somehow I managed. She doesn’t need her mama laughing at her.
So instead, I smiled.
“Sweetheart, everyone is going to remember you. You’re a pretty hard kid to forget.”
“But I lost so many teeth, and I got a haircut,” she pleaded.
Oh, sweet child.
“It’s hard to be the new kid, but I can promise you that your friends will remember you,” I replied.
As we drove to school the next morning, she was quiet. To get her talking, I handed her my phone and asked her to be my navigator. She eagerly accepted – she loves looking at the maps and seeing where we are going – and effortlessly guided me from our new home to her school.
It was a good distraction. By the time we got to school, she was Chatty Cathy and in good spirits. As she piled out of the car, we heard her name being shouted from across the parking lot – clearly the voice of another little girl.
“Oh, Zoe,” N said, smacking her forehead.
And just like that, the fear and first day jitters melted away. Her friends did remember her, even though some hadn’t seen her in three months. She smiled up at me, grabbed my hand, and we walked into school.
I don’t think the first day would have went as smoothly if I had shut down her feelings. If I had said any number of:
“Stop being such a baby,”
“This is life,”
“Everyone goes through it,”
“Enjoy it now – it’s all downhill from here.”
You’re probably wondering why I would even consider such “advice,” or why I would even think those were appropriate things to say to my six-year-old child transitioning from summer vacation back into the structured routine of the school year.
You see, the post I was reading by Assignment: Mom was a post addressing such advice. Apparently her initial post – the one where she is seen snuggling her newly minted kindergartner on the kitchen floor – received comments such as:
“That’s why youth is the way they are – babied too much.” (His grammar, not mine.)
“Stop coddling your kids – the problem with youth today is parents like you who refuse to let them grow up.”
Cue panic. Cue unrest. Cue gut-wrenching fear for our future. Cue anxiety.
Are there really parents out there who believe this? Is that what is wrong with our world today? Is that why everyone is so mean?
Children are children. And today’s society puts an immense amount of pressure on our children to act like adults. Kids want to grow up fast, and it is our jobs as adults to let them be children for as long as possible. And if this means hand holding, coddling, extra snuggles, and all of the love until that child no longer needs it, than that is exactly what they should receive.
Asking our little ones – hell, even our high school students, maybe even college-aged children – to process heavy emotions that come along with transitions on their own should be considered child abuse.
I said it. Child. Abuse.
Our role as parents is to teach our children – no matter their age – how to handle life, how to smoothly transition from one time period to another, how to process our emotions, and to remind them that what they are feeling is OK. To do anything less is neglect. It’s neglect of your duty, it’s neglect of their well-being, it’s neglect of the safety of our future world.
The world doesn’t need more robot adults who lack compassion, empathy, and heart. The world doesn’t need more cutthroat pioneers who forget that we are all humans fighting to survive. Our world needs the extra love. We need the extra hand holding. We need the extra support from one another.
And the people who can best teach us that are the children.
So give your child that extra hug. Sit with them for a little longer when they are scared or sad. Let them curl up in your lap for extra snuggles at the end of a long day. As young children, this is how they talk to us. And if you don’t show them that you can listen to them when they are four, five, six, or seven, they won’t come to you when they are in trouble in their teens.
Be your child’s safe place. It’s your only job as a parent.