Theories for Surviving the First Day of School
It's coming, Seattle. Our turn is coming. Facebook has been a rolling reel of First Day of School Photos from around the country for a few weeks now, and we're just here trying to cope with the fact that we got one whole week or so of Summer this year. But, it is time. Think of it this way: by this time next week, that dreaded first day will be over! I hope that for lots of you, the first day will be or has been an exciting time for your little students. I know, though, that for many of you it is rough. I especially send love to everyone sending that firstborn baby to Kindergarten. You are totally going to make it (and don't even get me started on your kids because they are gonna make it, kill it, love it so hard that you won't believe it!). Even if it IS a rotten first day, I am still sure that it will all be OK. (AND PLEASE GET YOURSELF A TREAT! PLAN AHEAD! I'll be having chocolate cake, duh.)
See how big I can talk? You should have seen me last year sending my 2nd grader to a new school (filled with 6 wk postpartum hormones!); it was not pretty. Here's what I wrote to talk myself through it all.
Facebook Post, 9/17/2015: I have been thinking a lot today about how to use my fourth-child-love on behalf of my first. No, I don't love Bran more than Ezra, but my love for Bran is relaxed and confident while my love for Ezra is still accompanied by fear of the unknown.
We sent two kids off to new schools today. Ivo started kindergarten, and I have no fear over him. This is partially because of who God has made Ivo to be and partially because Ezra already survived kindergarten. I'm sure that by the time Bran goes I'll drive by and just have him leap out the window and get to class.
I took my firstborn son to 2nd grade. I faked that I was confident and fine; he put on a steely face that I know means he is terrified. I think we both know that it WILL be fine, but it was not well with our souls this morning. So, I'm just pretending that he is Bran. I'm imagining that I have already had a child join a huge (for us) school and bloom. I am telling myself that it has already been accomplished. I'm trying to take my anxiety over him, examine it, count it duly-noted, and march on in confidence and joy. I must trust God who does already know how the day and the year will end.
Being Ezra's mother through all our mutual firsts has made me a better mother for the younger children. Ez deserves to have the benefit of that trusting, "been here; done this" LOVE that he helped to create.
Oh, my Ezra, I love you more than you will ever know (until the first day of second grade for your firstborn child).
So, did it work? Did using my 4-kids love on my first kid make things feel better?
I was feeling my “new mom” status BIG time. Before I had the moment to sit, reflect, and come up with the lofty thoughts above, I cried my eyes out and bewildered my husband by how hard I was taking it all. “What are you so afraid of?” he asked with his very insensitive calm and clarity of mind. “I don't know!” I spat back with the righteous indignation of a woman gripped by anxiety. “That's why I'm afraid!!!” I realized, “This is just like when he was a baby. It's the unknowns that scare you. 'What will happen if I don't figure out the best way to do a sleep schedule?' You just don't know, and you love him so much that you don't want anything to give him trouble- especially your own ignorance!” I saw the opportunity to experiment. “I haven't experienced one shred of stress over my last few babies' sleep schedules, and I bet taking Bran to school will be a snap...”
Hypothesis: If I love Ezra like he is my fourth child AND my first, then I will not feel as anxious and can enjoy this new experience more fully.
Experiment: Just tell yourself that it will be fine as if it has all turned out fine before. Visualize taking Bran to the second grade and know how grateful you will be then that Ezra paved the way.
1. Picturing a peaceful, confident future gave me better imagery on which to focus than fearful scenarios involving dramatic trauma for Ezra due to my ignorantly screwing everything up in various ways. The horror: I packed an embarrassing lunch! Moral failure: my child was pushed beyond his comfort zone! The tragedy: I was 10 minutes late for pick-up (Incidentally, that one came true. I don't think the damage will be too lasting...)!
Writing these fears out now, they all seem so silly, and I can't even write them down without sarcasm. Anxiety is quite the distorting lens. That said, I do have some compassion for first-day-of-Ezra-at-second-grade-at-big-new-school Jessica just like I have for all of us first-time-for-everything moms. You can't know what you know until you know it; and, after all, our children are nothing less than our most precious treasures, made of our own flesh, walking around with our hearts dangling from the end of a stick like a hobo's sack!
2. I felt more trusting and inspired by my community. One friend responded to my pitiful FB post (about how I would need to spend the day vomiting and crying) like this: “I know you will survive because I survived last week.” I thought of all my friends with grown children, including my parents and in-laws, who SURVIVED. I thought of all the other kids at school feeling nervous and of all the other wild-eyed parents I saw in the halls. “Why do we each act like we are the only one having our heart ripped out? We ALL are feeling nervous about our babies even if it's not for identical reasons.” I decided to lean on all the assurances from other parents. Why waste time with the isolating and, frankly, arrogant lie that I am alone and that Ezra is too. It would be better to show my cards and reap the benefits of advice on the hand I have been dealt. My firstborn and I share a struggle: neither of us like to admit when we need help. As the adult in the situation, I plan to go first in working on it. Maybe my example can bless him.
3. I felt proud of rather than terrified for Ezra. That first baby, no matter how old, is your trailblazer. You blaze together! I love adventure; I love to explore; Ezra does too. We need to march on with excitement and courage as we drive into each new territory. I want him to look into my eyes and see my confidence in God, my assurance that we need not fear. I want him to feel my pride in him so that he can believe me and tell himself that he CAN do hard things. Does this mean we are not allowed to be afraid? Does it mean that I will not be sensitive to his worries? Of course not! Courage is not never being afraid; it is doing the hard, scary thing anyway.
Conclusion: These were some pretty great results, but conducting the experiment was very difficult. Trying on a new skill always is. You cannot escape the fact that even trying to behave like something is not your first time must be done for the first time! My hope, though, is that I will get better at it. I have to practice. Being brave for the first year at a new school is like doing the tendues at the barre. You have to get the proper technique written into your body, so that when it is time for the big show you don't have to think about pointing your toes and stretching your legs. I don't even want to know yet what “the big show” will be for me when it comes to my children, but I know that “big show” days are going to happen because we have been through some already! I hope I am more ready all the time. I have no expectation that I will never be shocked. I have definite expectations that I will be challenged and even unprepared. I hope, though, that our practice will pay off.
YOU CAN DO IT, PARENTS!