back to school: a pep talk

Well, it's official. We are back to school! Well, preschool. For 9 blessed hours a week I am OFF DUTY.

Yesterday I walked my boys into their new classrooms, greeted their teachers, helped them find their cubbies, said good-bye, and watched them scamper off to explore.

I know I can't be the only mom who worries about what happens in there after all the parents are gone.

I'm not just talking about newsworthy tragedies and offenses, although I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I have a speech prepared in case I ever see a teacher slap a child on the playground.

(Oh, what's that? You'd like to hear my speech in all-blonde (and 2 redheads) gif form?

OK so I see THE SLAP from across the playground:

And then I go in:

And then I'll put on my sunglasses and turn around and the whole playground will be like:

So that's basically it. That's Plan A.

But we all know that it's far more likely that I'll walk onto the playground one day and find the teacher on her phone while my kid is picking another kid's nose. #ClassicBuster

Or find the teacher, at the end of both her day and her rope, resorting to the last tools in her kit: yelling "NO, I SAID NO, BUSTER" or maybe, "THAT WAS VERY BAD/MEAN," or possibly, "Here, drink this cough syrup."

And in that situation, "You're dead and you wasted your time here on Earth" is, perhaps, a little extreme. I mean, I wouldn't lead with it.

Even though I know I'll never have the chance to dust off my Daytime Emmy-winning speech, I'm still nervous and uncomfortable. I want to stay and watch. I hover. I'm asking the teachers what they had for dinner. Follow-up question: "Where do you grocery shop?" I'm hoping they say Fred Meyer so I can say me too and that common ground will connect us as sisters and then they'll all love my kids the most. I'm trying to bond as quickly as possible and it's alarming them, I can tell.

Bottom line: the idea of simply letting my kids manage this experience on their own is completely impossible to me today.

Here's why:

1. I am addicted to hearing other people say nice things about my children.

I live for that shit. LIVE. FOR. IT. I look forward to taking my children to the dentist so I can listen to the dentist tell me things about my kids' teeth.

And if compliments give me life, silence from teachers absolutely scares the holy hell out of me.

I have not yet reached the parenting level where silence means everything is fine.

I'm still at the parenting level where silence means death.

Silence from my kids' room means I'll be walking into either a crime scene or a trap.

Silence from my kids' teachers means some unforgivable trespass has been committed, and if my son is the perp then it probably has to do with scissors and that ambulance out front.

Or it means they're bad teachers who have nothing to report to me, because they've been ignoring my child when they are taking a break from actively destroying his self-esteem and smothering the spark of life that shines in his eyes... perhaps a little less brightly, now...

2. Kids who successfully navigate the classroom are flexible, resilient, self-controlled, obedient, respectful, and calm. 

OMG, that is literally my children, like that is spooky.

It's so spooky that wait a minute I think we are actually in the upside down because my children are the POLAR OPPOSITE of all of those things - rigid, dramatic, impulsive, rebellious, screamy climbers.

Most teachers meet my children with responses ranging from mild alarm to full-blown panic. "Wow," they say. And I agree. Wow.  I am not training puppies; I am trying to domesticate wolves. And it's possible these pup trainers did not sign up for wolf duty.

3. Putting my kid in school forces me to define what, exactly, everyone's job is here. 

I realize, when the teacher doesn't hear my son's sweet voice chirp, "Good morning, Miss Sarah," and his expectant face shines up at her and she just totally fucking MISSES it, I realize I am putting an awful lot of eggs in Miss Sarah's basket.

It is his job to grow into who he is, my job to help him as he grows, and the teacher's job to help him become one of many.

He's the seed, I'm the water, and the teacher is the soil, holding all the seeds together. Or maybe he's the seed and I'm the soil and the teacher is the gardener? I don't know, the seed metaphor isn't awesome, sorry.

It's his job to remember to say good morning, my job to listen to his sweet voice, and her job, sometimes, to ignore him.

It's not the teacher's job to love him unconditionally, or delight in him, or be moved by him. That's all me.

But when I promote myself to chief character-architect, that makes me ask myself all kinds of uncomfortable questions.

Have I raised my kids with the tools they need to be successful? Or at least, have I raised them to believe they are capable of developing those tools?

Have I raised them with a core of unconditional love? Do they think they're worth loving? Will they blame themselves for other people's mistakes? 

Have I modeled compassion for them? And strength? Are they safe from bullies? Are THEY bullies?

How much is too much wine to drink on a weeknight?

If I'm the character-builder, then the buck stops here. As much as I'd love to blame overworked, underpaid, grumpy, bored, tired teachers, I can't.

It's easy to fall down the rabbit hole. I imagine him sitting at the table, alone, wanting to play with another kid but unsure of how to ask for help, reading the tired and annoyed faces of his teachers. He'll make decisions at that table, about who he is, what he is capable of, and what kind of treatment he should expect.

If the teacher ignores him, will he decide that he's invisible? Um, that's unacceptable.

If the teacher is annoyed with him and snaps at him, will he decide that annoying people is how you connect with them? Um, that's unacceptable.

If the teacher is too overwhelmed to pause and coach him through socializing 101 (Lesson #1: How NOT to spit on people who are crying; no, that won't make them laugh) will he decide that he is a bad friend or too weird, and withdraw into books instead of finding joy in friendship?

Damn, I wish I could have the chance to make that speech. But I won't. Because kids don't decide who they are in an instant and there is no bad guy here.

My child will be ignored in school this year.
He'll annoy his teachers and know he's done it.
He'll struggle to make friends.
They always do.
That's his job.
To struggle.
When a seed sprouts, that's a lot of work, and everything that grows has broken to do it.

So when I watched Chicken walk into his classroom, watched the teachers at work, greeting him but not like EXTRA greeting him - I mean, it was fine, they said hello, and dropoff is always chaotic, but the greeting could have been warmer is all I'm saying - I gave myself this little pep talk:

Your child is strong enough to survive a lukewarm hello.

Your child is enjoyed enough to feel good about who he is.

Your child is heard enough to feel that his voice matters.

Your child knows where to look to find love.

Now is when he learns to be one of many. 

And then I went to the gym.

And it was glooooorioouuus.


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