Friday, August 28, 2009

Donna Starts School

August 28, 2009

Since I mined my children's kindergarten experiences in the name of story-telling, I'll share my own first experience as well.
When I was pre-kindergarten age, I had an older brother who liked to taunt me. He was really good at it. (It was a skill, by the way, he honed to perfection on all of his siblings.) At the age of five, he started school. I was only three, but really looked up to my big brother. I wanted to go where he went.

Sensing his upper hand, he played up the 'cool' factor of kindergarten. "You'll really love it, Donna. We get to sing, and play games, and color all day. When we take naps, we get to lie down on our own special mats. And our teacher gives us snacks! That's really what school is--we play and eat. It's so much fun! Too bad you're just a baby. You're too little to go." I was indignant--I was NOT a baby! I could color; I could play games! Why wouldn't they let me go, too? (I discovered, later in life, that he actually really disliked going to school. He would much rather have been able to stay home. But teasing me gave him enough pleasure to make it worth his while.)

Towards the end of the year, Gary started talking about the big end of the year party that his class was going to have, complete with ice cream and face painting. I begged him to ask the teacher to let me come. "Alright," he finally relented. "I'll ask my teacher if you can come, too." Every day I waited for him to come home, and I would immediately assail him. Did his teacher say I could come? And every day, rather nonchalantly, Gary would dismissively wave his hand and say he had forgotten. He was enjoying making me wait.

Kids who aren't in school have no clear concept of the passing of time, or days, or weeks. I had no idea when the end of school was; I just knew that every day Gary left, and then a few hours later he'd come home. One day, as Gary walked in the door, I met him with my usual hopeful question. "Oh, that," he said, smug grin on his face. "We had that today. Today was the last day of school, so we had all the ice cream we could eat and had a big party for the class. I guess I forgot to ask if you could go." WHAT??? All that build up and anticipation, to be let down in such an unceremonious (and less than contrite) way?? I couldn't believe he had done that to me.

Flash forward another year. Now was my time. After watching Gary head off to what I imagined was akin to a daily carnival of fun for two years, I was finally going to get to go to kindergarten. Imagine my surprise when my mom and I passed several children on the sidewalk in front of the school, sobbing and clinging to their mothers' skirts. I gazed in wonder at them. Why on earth would they be crying? Didn't these children know about the games? The songs? The lovely little naps on mats that were their own? Hadn't they heard about the snacks? I nearly ran to the front door dragging my mother behind while these children clutched their mothers' hands and begged them not to go. I couldn't understand it.

My first day of kindergarten was everything I had hoped for. There were colorful toys and posters all over the walls. There were magical letters and words posted up everywhere, and I couldn't wait to learn how to read them all. There was also a big playhouse off in a corner, big enough to stand in, where you could pretend to cook at the stove and wash dishes in the sink. It was beautiful, and I thought I might like to have a house just like that when I got older.
My teacher was a wonderful and beautiful woman named Mrs. Wells. At the beginning of class, we all sat, cross-legged, all around the edges of the big square carpet in the middle of the room. Mrs. Wells sat high in her chair at the front of the room. My little edge of the carpet was almost right next to her. She started off the day by greeting us one by one, reading our names on the little badges affixed to our shirts and dresses. She started off with the little girl right next to her. "Good morning, Karen." Karen was supposed to respond with, "Good morning, Mrs. Wells." Then she came to me. "Good morning, Donna." Smiling brightly, I said, "Good morning, Mrs. Wells." What a lovely way to learn everyone's names! One by one, she welcomed each child into her classroom.

The rest of the day went well, and I was thrilled to get to go back the next day. On the morning of the second day, we all knew we were supposed to sit around the carpet and be greeted by Mrs. Wells again to begin our day. This time, instead of sitting to Mrs. Wells' right, I sat off to her left. Once again, she began the welcoming us, one by one, to her classroom.

As a child I was quite shy, most of the time. I was so overwhelmed with the magic of my new surroundings on the first day that I didn't pause to let myself be worried about what the other kids might think of me. On that second day, however, as Mrs. Wells made her way around the carpet, wishing each child good morning, I had plenty of time to really take in my surroundings. There were a lot of kids sitting around that carpet! One by one, all eyes would turn to the next child to be greeted as Mrs. Wells said her hellos. EVERY classmate looked at the child as he or she responded with, "Good morning, Mrs. Wells." I started to realize that when she had gotten nearly all the way around the carpet and it was my turn to say good morning, I would have all those eyes staring at me. I started to panic. I didn't want all that attention; I didn't want all that focus on me. It was too much pressure. Mrs. Wells continued to make her way around the carpet. She was getting closer and closer to me, and my heart was beating so loudly that I was sure my neighbor could hear. My palms were sweating, and I couldn't breathe. Only two more kids before me. Only one more....

"Good morning, Donna," she smiled at me. For a few horrifying seconds, I stared at her, open-mouthed, unable to form a proper response. Everyone was staring at me, waiting. I could feel their eyes on me. "Good morning, Donna," she repeated. Suddenly, I jumped up and turned around, fleeing toward the inside of the playhouse where I could hide. Before I got three steps, my shoe caught the edge of a throw-rug, and I went sprawling across the floor, face down, my little skirt flipped up so that the whole class could see my underwear. In trying to escape the burden of the gaze of all my classmates, I drew their attention in the most spectacular fashion. My teacher helped me up, put her arms around me, and gently walked her sobbing student to the nurse to settle down.

Luckily, children are resilient little things. One instant of humiliation was no match for two years of anticipation, and I came back to school the next day, determined not to let my fears keep me from the wonder and joy I had found on the first day. I just made sure that for the rest of the year, I started my Good Mornings right next to Mrs. Wells, so that I could get it out of the way before I could think about it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Danielle Starts School

August 26, 2009

You knew this was coming right? I thought it only fair to give Danielle equal time in the whole 'starting kindergarten' story-telling.

Like most kids with older siblings, Danielle was more than ready to start kindergarten at a very young age. She was constantly wondering aloud when her turn would be, since she was dying to 'be a big girl' and head off to school just like Brother and Sissy. We kept telling her she was too young; you had to be five to start kindergarten. She had to content herself with packing her little backpack with crayons and cololring books to take along to daycare, biding her time until she was grown up enough.

Danielle's birthday is in late November, and although we technically could have sent her to school when she was four, we thought it best to wait until the following year. All that fall, she listened attentively to her siblings talk about their classes and their homework, wishing she could join in the conversation. When I picked her up from daycare on the afternoon of her birthday that November, her babysitter Tami told me I had unfortunately been less than clear with Danielle as to how exactly school was supposed to work.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well," she began, "your daughter has been angry at you all afternoon." I couldn't imagine why. "When I lined up all the school-aged kids to load them up in the van, there at the back of the line was Danielle, beaming, backpack on her back. I told her to go back to where all the rest of the younger kids were playing, but she put her little hands on her hips and said, 'I'm going to school today! It's my birthday, and Mommy said I couldn't go to school until I was five. Well, I'm five today, so I get to go to kindergarten!'"

What a cruel realization for her! I had failed to mention anything about school schedules and time lines and the beginning of the year. She had waited patiently because she knew it wasn't terribly long before her birthday, and suddenly she was being told she'd have to wait a much, much longer time. It wasn't fair--and I didn't blame her for being mad at me.

Luckily, by the time fall rolled around again, she was no longer bearing a grudge. The week before school was to finally start for her, I took her to the school to meet Mrs. Weber, who would be her kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Weber paused in her efforts to dress up her room for all the students who would be flooding the classroom next week to talk with Danielle. As they made small talk, Danielle was taking in her surroundings, the world she would get to inhabit for the next several months. Then, her teacher said something that would let her know for sure she was in for a great year. Just in passing, Mrs. Weber mentioned that her favorite color was yellow. Well, Danielle loved yellow, and had never heard anyone else say it was their favorite. She knew right then and there that she was going to love Mrs. Weber--and kindergarten. And she was absolutely right!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nicholas Starts School

August 24, 2009

In the spirit of yesterday's post, I thought I'd share a little story of Nicholas' kindergarten experience.

Nicholas approached the beginning of his school career with a little less enthusiasm than his sister, but still he was excited about the prospect of a new adventure. He was an explorer--inquisitive and fascinated by his surroundings. He was also an escape artist, as it turns out.

My son had no particular worries or fears about starting school, and he marched through the doors on the first day, delighted at all the bright and shiny toys displayed throughout Mrs. Stead's classroom. At the end of the first day, when I picked him up, he said he had had a good time, but couldn't really give me much in the way of details--just a general favorable impression.

At the end of the second day it was much the same. He had a good day, most of the kids were pretty nice, but no real specifics on how he spent his day. He lived it, he experienced it, and then it was over. He didn't need to dwell on the details or savor them later on in his day--he lived in the moment. He was frustrated by my incessant quest for the details. I actually gave him 'homework' on the evening of his second day--find out the name of at least one kid that he played with during the day. Without my prompting, he wouldn't think to ask the kid sharing his Legos or playing ball with him at recess what his name was so that he might more easily seek him out to play again the next day. Like I said, he relished the moment, and wasn't particularly interested in making future plans. The future just happened for Nicholas.

He settled in and seemed satisfied by the end of the first week. By the first day of the following week, it was old hat, or so it seemed. Shortly after lunch on that second Monday of Nicholas' kindergarten year, I got a nearly hysterical call from his babysitter in my classroom. The first words out of her mouth were, "First of all, everything's okay now, and we've found him, but I can't take it anymore today. Nicholas disappeared on me today--twice. You have to come get him NOW." Through the tears and frustration, I got the story that had nearly pushed his babysitter over the edge...

I was lucky to have a daycare provider who would pick up Nicholas after kindergarten got out, since I was still in class for another couple of hours after his class dismissed. Tami had been our babysitter since the kids were infants--she was like an extra aunt to them. Imagine her surprise when she got to the school to pick up Nicholas, just like she had every day the week before, only to find him missing. She went to the kindergarten yard and asked the teacher on duty where he was. She looked around the playground and, not finding him, assumed that he must still be inside his classroom. She pointed Tami toward Nicholas' classroom. His teacher, not knowing that she'd already checked the yard, told Tami that he wasn't inside, he must be out on the playground.

It took a few minutes for both teachers and Tami to realize that Nicholas had gone missing. They went into a frantic search, looking in all the nooks and crannies of the classroom, thinking he might be hiding. They searched the bathrooms, the front office, the library. They called over the loudspeaker for Nicholas to report to the front office, all to no avail. For about 20 minutes, there was a manhunt on for my missing boy, during which time, Tami and the teachers were frantic with fear. Who wants to call a parent and tell them their child's been lost?

Luckily, about that time, Brianna appeared at the front office, with Nicholas in tow. Without having any idea the trouble he would be causing, he had seen a line of kids heading out of the kindergarten gate at the end of his day. He didn't know what the line was for; he didn't know where they were going. He, living in the moment, just thought it would be interesting to follow them out the gate and see where they were going. Where they were going, it turned out, was Campus Club. When they arrived at the Campus Club building, Nicholas realized he didn't belong there, so he just turned around and left. It occurred to him that his sister was in one of the classrooms, so he just decided to peek in each window up and down the hallways until he found her.

One of the teachers noticed a little one peering in her window, and she stepped outside to ask him what he was looking for. It happened to be a teacher who knew Bree, so when he said he was looking for his sissy, the teacher took him to her class. Bree, knowing that Tami was supposed to be picking him up after school, asked her teacher to be excused to take him up to the front office.

When they arrived, Tami and both of the kindergarten teachers were there, trying to figure out if it was time to notify me that they had lost my son. The immediate sense of relief gave way to frustration and anger, and all three of the women let Nicholas know in no uncertain terms all the fear and worry he had caused. Frankly, they scared him--not that I blame them. It never occurred to him that everyone was looking for him; he had no concept of time or any idea that his wandering adventure was such a cause for alarm. By the time he was strapped into the car seat and on the way back to Tami's, he was indignant and crying, mad that everyone was yelling and upset with him.

In the meantime, I was blissfully unaware of Nicholas' misadventures. Tami and Nicholas got back to her daycare, and she sent him into the nap room. She was emotionally exhausted, but she needed to relieve her aide, who had been holding down the fort and managing the other daycare kids while she scoured the school looking for him. Still angry at all of the unexpected ire he'd encountered at school, Nicholas decided he'd had enough of Tami's, and he snuck out the back door. He was ready to call it a day and be home, so he headed on down the road. Imagine Tami's horror when she discovered that Nicholas was on the lam for the second time that day.

She called the nearby elementary school to see if he might have wandered over there to play on the playground. No sign of a stray kid. She searched her yard and every part of her house. After yet another twenty minutes or so of searching, the school called her and said that one of their aides had been driving home and had encountered a little boy, trudging down the road (toward a busy street where cross traffic does not stop!)--hot, tired, but looking like a man with a mission. (Amazingly, the kid had a great sense of direction for a five year old. Though he had never made the trek on foot, he was three blocks away from Tami's, on the right track towards home.) The aide thought he might belong to the school she worked at, and since Tami had recently called looking for a missing boy, the secretary figured he was my little runaway and called Tami to come and get him.

The aide stayed with Nicholas, and offered him some water while they waited. Interestingly, she offered him a ride home, but he knew he wasn't supposed to ride with strangers, so he declined. (He didn't want to ride with strangers, but hiking two miles home on his own he was okay with--little minds are funny things!) Tami picked him up, but was so beside herself that she didn't say much to him. As soon as she got back home she picked up the phone and told me I needed to come get him--NOW. Her heart couldn't take it if he managed to slip away one more time.

Needless to say, my escape artist and I had a real heart-to-heart that night--something along the lines of how to avoid giving your loved ones nervous breakdowns. Seven years later, by the way, we're still working out the finer points of that lesson.

Brianna Starts School

August 23, 2009

On the eve of our return to school, I am reminiscent of when my little darlings were first starting out on their educational careers. Brianna's first week of kindergarten pretty much set the stage for all subsequent years.

Brianna was beyond excited to start school when she was five. She loved what she called 'learning books'--workbooks and coloring books that helped her learn her numbers and ABCs and colors and such. She'd spend hours engrossed in them, so when it was time for her to head off to kindergarten, she was thrilled that she'd get to do 'big girl' learning books. She couldn't wait to get to all of the amazing things she imagined she'd get to learn about once she started school.

Her teacher was Mrs. Flynn, who was young, enthusiastic, and lovely. I dropped Bree off on her first morning, and she was there at the door with a warm smile and open arms. I, of course, cried, because my little baby was growing up. Bree, however, wise for her age, smiled at me lovingly, gave me a hug, and sent me on my merry way. She nearly danced into the classroom, ready for her great adventure.

I couldn't wait until school was over that first day and I could hear about everything she did. (She was my first, remember, so the kindergarten experience was as new to me as it was to her.) She ran out to the car and hopped in, ready to tell me everything about the day. She told me how pretty and nice her teacher was, and how many new friends she had met, and what everyone ate for lunch. She told me who played with whom at recess, and how many field trips they'd be going on during the year. She was a wealth of information.

When she had finished telling me everything she had to say about her day, I asked her, "So what did you LEARN about today?" Her answer: nothing. "What do you mean, nothing?" I asked her. "You didn't learn anything at all today?"

"Well," she said, "our teacher asked us to tell her what color things were. That's not really learning, though, because I already know all my colors." I explained to her that not everyone in her class all knew the same things, so her teacher had to find out what everyone already knew, including colors. She said she understood, and was excited to see what the next day held for her.

The next afternoon when I picked her up, we had a repeat. She gave me the complete run-down of all the social aspects of the day once again--which kids played with the same kids as yesterday, which kids made new friends, which ones seemed shy and which ones seemed most friendly. (She's still a keen social observer, that one. It's one of the traits that allows her to move so freely among her diverse group of friends, and that encourages her to reach out to new or shy kids and draw them into her group. She's a friend to everyone, and I love that about her.) After I got the social report, I asked her again what she learned that day, and again she said, "Nothing."

"Really?" I asked her. "You didn't learn anything again today?" She told me the teacher just wanted everyone to count to twenty for her, and she didn't consider that learning since she already knew how to count to 119. (Oddly, 120 was the elusive number that impeded her progress toward her goal of 150.) I reminded her that Mrs. Flynn was just trying to find out what everyone already knew, so she would know what she still needed to teach them. "I know," she said, contentedly. She wasn't deterred by the slow start.

On the third day, she came running to the car, excited to tell me everything that had gone on in the kindergarten world. Before she was even finished with the run-down, I interrupted her to ask what she had learned today. The expression on her face changed. She looked a little sad for me, for my naivete. I think she felt she needed to set me straight--you know, so I wouldn't continue to get my hopes up about what she'd be learning at school. Clearly school was so much more about the who than the what. She leaned forward, quite conspiratorially, and whispered, "Mommy, actually, you don't learn anything in school. All we do is color and play games."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's That Time Again

August 22, 2009

Of all the times of the year, this is when I miss my mom most--the weekend before school kicks off again for the new year. More than her birthday, even more than the anniversary of her death, this is the time her presence is strongest, even ten years after her death. I remember even before I became a teacher spending time in her classroom, organizing and decorating everything so that it was welcoming and 'homey' for her kids. After I got my own credential, she and I took turns helping each other out, spending late nights the the Saturday and Sunday before the first day of school making everything just right in our rooms. Our district also does a huge 'Kick-off Rally' for every employee in the district on the Thursday before school starts--we rode together, cheered together, got inspired (or not) by the keynote speaker, and were encouraged about the work that we do for the kids.All of those experiences she and I shared for so many years make the beginnings of all my school years tie inextricably to her memory.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


August 20, 2009

Count me among the thousands for whom junior high was pure, unadulterated torture. Well, okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration--it wasn’t two years of complete torture, but pretty close. Seeing my son off to his junior high days have made me not nostalgic, but certainly reflective of my own middle school years.

Too begin with, I was painfully shy, not just in school but anywhere. I couldn’t make phone calls, couldn’t talk to a cashier at the store, found it unbearable to have people look at me. I was hyper-sensitive to what people might think of me, terrified that I would be judged and found lacking. I’m not sure how I came by this particular personality trait, and I don’t think that any event earlier in my childhood might have traumatized me into it. All I could do was attempt to learn to live with it. I spent a great deal of time trying to become invisible, and in a lot of ways became fairly successful at it.

When I made the transition from 6th to 7th grade, I was contending with not only my shyness, but also the fact that I was being thrust into a new school in a new district. My parents were divorcing, and we moved, so I started my 7th grade year at a school where I didn’t know a soul, not even my siblings, who were at the high school and elementary school, respectively. The school I transferred to was a small school in a small town where nearly all the kids had gone to school with one another since kindergarten. It was an outsider, an interloper.

I didn’t make friends. I was too afraid to talk to my classmates, and I was paralyzed by the idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger during lunch or breaks, and I marveled at the ease with which my classmates moved among each other, falling in and out of conversations seamlessly. I, on the other hand, spent all of my time studying or reading. Most days I spent lunchtime in the library, where the librarians learned my name very quickly. They often saved new books that came in to recommend to me first, asking for my opinions and reviews of the seven or eight books I read each week. It was the only time I felt at ease at the school, and the only time I truly enjoyed myself at school. The library was my safe haven.

I was always a good student, and all the time I spent studying certainly helped me maintain straight As. As I made my ways through the days, head down and nose stuck perpetually in a book, I didn’t realize that though I perceived myself to be invisible, I was in fact drawing attention I wasn’t trying to draw. The first was from the teachers, a few of whom had good intentions, but misguided concerns. I was sent to the school psychologist and held after class by one or two teachers who felt I was using books to ‘escape from the reality’ of some childhood trauma. The reality was there was no trauma; I just had no idea how to break into the circles I saw formed all about me.

While I was causing concern for my teachers, I was simultaneously gaining some unwanted attention from a gang of girls who were quite a fixture at our school. There were about fifteen of them, girls who reigned through intimidation. One of the smallest girls, even smaller than I was, ended up in one of my classes in 8th grade, and she instantly took a disliking to me. She started out with small jabs and quiet verbal attacks, which I simply tried to ignore. Strategically, this was not a good move. She was not accustomed to being ignored, and it infuriated her. She progressed to light shoves in the locker room and ‘accidental’ bumps in the hallways . I didn’t tell anyone and tried not to react, but that didn’t give her the satisfaction she was looking for, so she enlisted her friends to escalate her attack.

Everyday I’d run into at least one of them. I lingered longer in classes to avoid the crowds in the halls and stayed near teachers whenever possible, though I never told anyone I was being bullied or harassed. Near the end of the year as I was walking to the P.E. class she and I shared, she grabbed my shoulder and whirled me around to face her. She was flanked by two girls on each side. As they glared, she called me names and demanded to know why I would not respond to her barbs. Having had enough, I simply yelled, “I am not afraid of you,” (though it’s possible the shakiness in my voice belied my true fear). Without awaiting her response, I turned and stormed off. A few seconds later, I was kicked hard in the rear, and I went flying forward to land on my hands, knees, and face. As I got up and brushed myself off, she and her friends threatened to jump me after school. They had already beaten up a few kids after school, so I knew it was no idle threat. I just didn’t know how I had managed to find myself in their line of fire.

This last threat was the impetus I needed to finally confide in someone. I told my mom that there was a gang of girls who had been threatening me, and told her I really believed that walking home from school was going to turn ugly for me. She went to a neighbor, whose son also went to my school. She asked him to have his son walk me home for the rest of the year, which was only another couple of weeks. Although I was mortified that one of the most popular boys was compelled by his father to babysit me, I was more frightened of the possibility of running into these girls on my own. And, to his credit, the boy was incredibly sweet and gracious about walking me home. Since we walked home together each day, we talked and got to know each other a little bit. He even invited me to the 8th grade graduation party his parents threw for him.

It was at this party where I had one of the most powerful epiphanies I’ve ever had. One of the other girls who happened to be at the party came over and introduced herself and made an effort to get to know me. After spending quite a bit of time with me, she said, “You know, you are really very sweet. I never talked to you before because everyone thinks you are so stuck up and full of yourself. Everyone says that you never talk to anyone because you think you’re so much better and smarter than everyone else, but you don’t seem like that at all to me!” I was speechless, honestly. It had never occurred to me that people’s perceptions of me could be so completely different than my own. Here I was absolutely mired in my own self-consciousness, and all of these kids, including presumably the gang of girls who had made my life difficult for the past several months, assumed that my reluctance to talk to anyone was the result of arrogance. Not only was I devastated by this perceived assessment of my personality, but I was crushed that this realization was so long in coming--too late, as a matter of fact. I had just found out that I was changing school districts again and would be starting at a brand new high school in the fall. Any opportunity I might have had to make friends with my school mates was gone.

This epiphany resulted in a resolve that remains with me to this day. I resolved that I would never again make it that easy for someone to have such a profoundly incorrect perception of who I am. I wanted to know other people and I wanted to have friends, but it was so much easier to back away from the potential rejection than it was to take a chance. When I started my new school, I knew that I could not let fear keep me outside the circle any longer. I forced myself to learn the names of everyone around me, and to make eye contact and smile, and to have something to say in every conversation. The study skills I had developed over the years had a new focus--my purpose was to learn how to successfully interact socially. It felt incredibly forced a lot of the time at first, and I was always scared that someone would turn on me and say, “Why are you talking to me?” But of course what I found was that the more people I was friendly with, the more people would respond to me positively. I pretended to be outgoing at first, and it became easier and easier--it became second nature. By the time I reached my final year, I was nominated “Friendliest Senior” in our class awards.

In my adult life, and particularly as a teacher, I continue to remind myself that putting myself in uncomfortable social situations can often yield fruitful and positive results. I still consider myself shy, but most of my colleagues today would probably be surprised to hear me describe myself as such, because I force myself to be much more outgoing than I feel. In reflecting on that time in my life, I also realize with a little distance that the extreme self-consciousness I felt consumed by was really another side of self-absorption. My classmates saw me as conceited, and really, I was so consumed by the fear that people would think badly of me for some reason that I was incapable of focusing on other people. It wasn’t conceit in the way that we often think of it, but it is certainly its sister, and I realized that when I focused on other people instead of myself, I was a much happier person. Finally, my own junior high experience made it abundantly clear that we never really know what is going on in the mind and heart of another person. We all make snap judgments and decisions about the people we encounter in our lives, but what we see, or what we think we see, can be deceptive, and it’s my job to see behind the snapshot image people (my students, for example) present, and to get to know the reality that shapes that image.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Beginnings

August 19, 2009

I registered my little boy for Junior High yesterday. It's so funny how I still look at him as a little boy, even though he stands eye-to-eye with me and now has the deep voice of a young man. He is still my little boy, and I worry about this new journey he is about to embark upon. He's moving from the close, confined space of elementary, where people knew his name, knew his strengths and weaknesses, and knew his little idiosyncrasies. His teachers and some of the other key educators on his campus knew how to encourage and support him, helped him keep focused, and taught him to recognize in himself triggers that would frustrate him, so that he could avert trouble and be proactive in keeping himself on track and on a path that would keep him happy and successful.

Now he moves into a much bigger world. His teachers will see him for a much shorter time each day, and he'll have to navigate and organize this schedule in a way that he never has before. Organization is not, nor has it ever been, his strong suit. This, I imagine, will be one of our biggest challenges this year. In addition, Nicholas, like all kids, thrives when he knows that his teachers care about him and are rooting for his success. Nicholas doesn't intuit this kind of information, however; he tends to be a very concrete and straight-forward sort of guy. With the daily changing of classes and less personal contact with each of his teachers this year, our challenge will be to help him read the more subtle, less obvious signs that his teachers have his best interests at heart. This, so far, is the number one factor in helping to ensure that Nicholas has a good year--knowing that the people he comes into contact with in his every day life are there to help him and cheer him on, rather than to make is life difficult. Makes sense, right? We all thrive in an environment where we know people want us to do well and have high expectations of us.

The good news is that although organization and feeling connected are sometimes tough for him, Nicholas has really made some great progress in both of these areas. He has matured, as people tend to do, so I am nervous, but also hopeful that this new beginning on Monday will be a good one for him. Thus far, he has found very few friends that are in his classes. We think, though, that when he walks into his classrooms on Monday morning, he'll find some familiar faces. The elective he signed up for is not the one he chose, but he's keeping a positive attitude that journalism might not turn out to be such a bad choice anyway. And his love, his primary interest--Lego Robotics--was spearheaded in our district by the man who happens to be his principal this year--a man who also already has Nicholas' undying devotion because of their shared affinity (or obsession--depends on who you ask) for all things Star Wars. If nothing else, Nicholas is looking forward to being in the Star Wars club. And if that's the thing that helps connect him to the campus, to his teachers, then I'm all for light-saber battles on the quad at lunch.

Here's hoping for a great new beginning as my little man heads off on his new adventure!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Little Hop-Along

August 12, 2009

The kids' dad called me yesterday, and said he was on his way to take Nicholas to the emergency walk-in clinic. Apparently, while hanging out at a friend's house the previous day, he somehow injured his foot. While walking down the stairs, he took a step, and POP--something snapped. Believe it or not, he was not running, jumping, falling or tripping. He was simply using the feet the way God intended--as a means of propelling himself from here to there. Leave it to Nicholas, though, to manage a creative injury.

The verdict from the doctor? Fractured fifth metatarsal. Yup--Nicholas broke his foot by WALKING. Oddly, we're told that this is not all that uncommon. I had never heard of it myself until this happened to Nicholas, but now two of my girlfriends tell me the same thing happened to their sons. Is this a boy thing? Is this a rite of passage for boys at the onset of puberty? Maybe the bones in his feet simply haven't caught up with the growth spurt that has stretched him up to my height. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. This is the same kid who managed to pierce his lip with a fork at the age of three, and the same kid who nearly broke his hip falling through the jungle gym several years ago.

Frankly, I'm surprised it took him this long to break a bone. I'm just bummed for him that he'll be in a surgical boot when he starts junior high in a couple of weeks. His first experience changing classes every day will be compounded by hobbling around, and as of yet, he has not exactly mastered the whole hobbling thing. Here's hoping that a couple of weeks' healing will have him wielding the boot expertly and wearing it like a badge of honor. Maybe it'll give him an conversation ice-breaker when he's meeting all those new kids in his classes this year.