Our First Day of School: All We Really Need to Know

“All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school…”

– Robert Fulghum

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Well, it’s here… Kindergarten for you, and the first day back in front of a high school classroom for me. We’re both ready for this. You’ve got four years of daycare and preschool under your belt while I’ve spent nine years teaching and have even been working part-time the last three.

So why does it feel like everything is changing? This will be your first time in a building of big kids instead of babies. Your first time riding a school bus every day. Your first time with backpacks and lunch boxes. And this will be my first time having my own classes as a mom of two. My first time having to split time between not just you and your sister, but also the class set of essays that need grading. My first time trying to schedule parent teacher meetings as both a parent and a teacher.

And, I’ve been told, this is going to be a big year for you. According to the well-loved poem by Robert Fulghum, you’re about to learn everything you need to know. I suppose that means I’ve already learned it, but I’m going to be counting on you to help me remember some things.

“…Clean up your own mess…”

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We live a messy life, and I’m okay with that. Actually, I love that. But summer is much more tolerant of our messes. You’ll learn that if your two little hands are big enough to make a mess, then they’re also big enough to clean it. I bet, though, you’ll also learn that if you ask nicely enough, you’ll find someone to help you when you need it most. You’ll remind me to take ownership; being a working mom doesn’t change my responsibilities, and neither do worry or complaints. You’ll remind me to ask for help for your sake if not mine, but ultimately remember that this is my wonderful, chaotic, loving, stressful mess.

“…Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…”

You’ve got a lot of pride for such a little person. We’ve had our share of timeouts and stern discussions when you’ve played a little too rough with a cousin, tumbled into me a bit too hard, or accidentally trampled over the cat’s tail and refused an apology. You’ll learn that the rest of the world isn’t quite as forgiving as cousins, moms, and cats. You’ll remind me that hurt doesn’t just come from our hands and that sometimes I release the stress of the day on the person who is closest and seems most able to handle it. It’s easy to give all of myself to children — both mine and other people’s — and forget about the person who will remain when you all leave my classroom and my home. And hopefully you will remind me to say I’m sorry {even if I was right in the first place…}

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“…Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some…”

You told me that you don’t like to do hard things, and when I asked you why, you said, “Because they’re hard.” You will learn that those hard things make the fun stuff so much better, just like the pool always feels warmer when you’ve been out in the wind a bit. You will remind me to sing {and, for now, not notice how badly I do it} and that even the hardest day can be made better with a little dance party in the living room. 

“…Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.”

20160712_164339The days will seem long, but every day, your branches will get a little longer and your foundation a little deeper. You will find small parts of the world that make it so much bigger than you ever imagined. You’ll remind me that I once laughed out loud because I thought I’d pulled off some kind of master trick: I get to tell stories for a living. I get to read and write and teach and talk with young people who not only believe the world is worth changing, but that they’ll be the ones to do it. You’ll come home with so much amazement and joy that you’ll remind me if I ever find myself waiting for 5 o’clock, it’s time to find a new job.

So, there it is: just some of what you’ll learn this year. You are like the brand-new school supplies we’ve tucked into your brand-new backpack: crisp, clean, bright, and shiny bundles that are maybe just a little too much for small shoulders to carry. I’ve been in schools long enough to see what happens to those little packages. By January, the paper is worn and tattered, the caps have been left off all 30 glue sticks, and the markers hold on to their last bits of ink with squeaky protests. And yet you carry them anyway, and by June, the same load won’t seem quite as heavy as it did this first day. And you’ll remind me that if a five-year-old can be so brave and so happy, then so can this 35-year-old.


“…
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

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