Annie started kindergarten last week. We have been eagerly awaiting this magical milestone, and placing a lot of focus on the “big day!” And while I’m all for establishing positive expectations, I walk a fine line between building confidence and creating too much pressure when it comes to preparing Annie for something new. I know many kids do well when there is excitement and build-up leading up to an important event. My oldest child is not one of them. And in the spirit of all the important learning that lies ahead this school year, I have already learned something valuable –my child’s stress threshold is uniquely her own.
I wanted her first day of school to be so wonderful and so exciting, and now I wonder if there was just no way for a “day” to live up to such expectations for her. And it didn’t. It was a bad day, and I was not at all prepared for it. In fact, I was truly confident that it was going to be fantastic. I didn’t worry about the long day (she went to preschool 5 days a week for seven hours a day), I wasn’t concerned about her making new friends (she amazed me this summer making friends quickly and easily at a new camp in a new city), and I didn’t fuss about her taking care of herself (she’s always been an independent kid). Not for one minute did I imagine her first day of school being anything but great.
Ugh….my baby! She walked out of school so sad, so overwhelmed, so uncomfortable……the worry on her face and the distress so clear in her body language caused my heart to ache. Some parents cried at drop off on that first day. I cried at pick-up.
The next morning Annie told me she hated school and hated kindergarten. I told her not to rush the judgment seeing as she had only tried it for a couple of hours. I dropped her off with a belly ache and a pit in my own stomach that didn’t go away until she stepped off the bus. Her feet had barely touched the ground when she declared that she had “the awesomest day ever!” While I felt some sense of relief hearing her share this sentiment, it was pretty clear that she was trying really, really hard to convince both of us that that was true.
It’s now the start of the second week, and she is still a nervous wreck. Worrying about her worrying, I’m a nervous wreck too (I wonder where she gets it). I am utterly consumed with her social and emotional well-being and desperately trying to keep my own anxieties to myself. There are so many things I want to ask her, so many things I want to say. I’m exercising self-control, but inside I’m perseverating:
What’s happening in your classroom?
Did you cry?
Why’d you cry?
Were you sad?
Were you scared?
Does the teacher see when you’re struggling to feel connected?
Does anyone take notice when you’re anxious?
Are you trying to be brave?
Are you trying too hard to be brave?
You don’t have to be brave all the time. It’s okay to feel nervous. Everyone feels nervous.
Is your tummy hurting all day?
Are you telling anyone?
Who did you sit with?
Who did you spend time with?
Are the kids nice?
Are you being nice?
Are you making any new friends?
Did we overwhelm you with all this kindergarten talk?
Too much pressure?
Are you happy today?
Obsessive thoughts aside, I am trying to push ahead without feeding this hiccup too much energy. This isn’t the beginning of her ***first full week of school*** Today is simply Tuesday. She will have the day she has (a la Timothy Green), and she will grow and learn . . . . just as I will. And while I still find I am easily overwhelmed by thoughts of her fragile 5-year-old psyche, I quickly remind myself how resilient kids are. This is an important experience for her, isn’t it? She’ll find her sea legs and come out of this adjustment period stronger and more confident, right?
And as for me….there’s always red wine.