School this year began with tears.
My first-grader wept the first day.
You’re taking away my freedom, he said. How dare you make me wear clothes and leave my books and my toys and my Minecraft!
But after a couple of days with an engaging teacher, he came home and uttered these words:
“I love school.”
My kindergartner wept on the third day, a Monday.
Maybe watching his older brother fight with me inspired him. Maybe the weekend did. Maybe he realized that every school day begins with an assembly where a 4-foot-tall kid with a stormtrooper backpack looks like 500 other 4-foot-tall kids with backpacks who happen to stare as you find your seat.
He gripped my leg. He whined. He screamed. He did everything he could to communicate his terror and loneliness and despair, even if it meant those 500 pairs of eyes looked a little longer. He was not going to school.
But he did. His teacher allowed me to walk him to his classroom. With kind, understanding eyes, she took him from me, and I walked away. Every parent has done this at day care, at school, at home. It never gets easier.
The next day, I sent my husband as my drop-off proxy. I’m usually the one who takes them to school, so I thought this would throw Mr. Kindertrooper and he wouldn’t put on the same show.
Wrong. Same show.
So now it’s a pattern, and I’ve learned that’s when good teachers excel. Kindertrooper’s teacher enlisted the school counselor, who sat down with my son. She told him to read “The Kissing Hand” with me so I could kiss his hand and he could press it against his cheek whenever he missed me.
She told him that if he felt nervous the next morning, he could skip the assembly and retreat to her room, where a comfy couch and stuffed animals might help him feel safe.
He didn’t need to retreat. His classroom teacher, with those kind eyes, gave him a job. She told him he was good at counting, and she really needed his help the next morning to tally the students in their class. Without Mr. Kindertrooper’s help, they might not all make it from the assembly to the classroom.
I wept on the eighth day.
This was the first Monday that both my children dressed and brushed their teeth and combed their hair willingly, with no tears of dread. They bounded out of the car together and led me to the gymnasium, not the other way around. Without looking back, they found their teachers with their kind smiles. They took their seats amid 500 pairs of eyes.
My tears came in relief. In gratitude.
Thank you, teachers.
Thank you for caring for our children as much as we parents do. Thank you for treating them as individuals, each a puzzle that needs solving.
Thank you for helping shape our children into functioning human beings, and never giving up.
Lindsay Hanson Metcalf: @hansonmetcalf