Reflections

What I Learned From My Daughter’s Year In First Grade

We naturally expect our kids to learn things over the course of a year of school. What I hadn’t anticipated, though, is how much I would learn. Over the past couple of days I’ve been doing some thinking about what I’ve learned (and relearned) this year, and I thought I’d share some of them with you.

It’s not a bad thing when your child calls you by the teacher’s name. It’s considered endearing (albeit embarrassing) when children call the teacher “Mommy,” because it means that subconsciously the children see the teacher in the same protective role as they do their mamas. But I always thought it would hurt my heart a little to hear my child do the opposite: accidentally call me by her teacher’s name. As it turns out, it didn’t hurt. It didn’t sting. It made me feel good, because it meant to me that when she is outside my presence, there is someone who treats her the same way I would: with love and compassion and genuine interest. Her teacher this year made her feel safe in the same way I do, and I can’t ask for more than that. It’s not a compliment or insult, necessarily, to be called by the teacher’s name. To me, this year, it meant that she loved her teacher. That’s a very good thing and doesn’t hurt me at all.

Compassion is modeled and learned. There were some…how shall I say….difficult children in her class this year. Over the course of the year, as she came home and told me of their shenanigans and on what color they ended the day, I told her that we needed to pray for those boys because they are obviously having a hard time. I pointed out that we don’t know why they’re acting the way they are, but that we know God knows and can help them. And nearly every morning, as we approached the school and I asked her for prayer requests, she mentioned the names of the boys in her class even before her own concerns. She celebrated when they showed improvement and continued praying when they didn’t. I’d like to think she’s learning a pretty important lesson through those boys.

Bullies aren’t all bad. I wouldn’t say I pictured bullies as horrible kids before, but I definitely had an idea of what they are like. (Hint: it wasn’t a great picture.) When my own daughter came home with stories of being bullied by a particular little girl, though, I managed to maintain my position that there is a reason she was acting the way she was, and I prayed with my daughter for the other little girl. I helped my daughter discover her bravery as we talked about what she could do in response. I got to know the little girl a little bit through volunteering at the school. My daughter and I talked about ways to handle the situation and continued to pray…and by the end of the year, my girl came home with stories about her new friend and all that they had done at recess that day. You guessed it. It was the “bully.”

When kids are 7, parents are still pretty cool. Her class had recess at the end of the day this year, so they were outside on the playground when I drove up to claim my spot in car line. When she and her friends saw me, they would run around the edge of the playground alongside my car, waving and smiling and shouting the whole way. When I came to her class to read, she was the first to jump up and hug me before the rest of her class surrounded me with waist-high embraces. When I popped into her class for one thing or another, the kids would all wave and mob me – even getting in trouble to do so. On the zoo field trip, my daughter hung back with me a few times rather than running ahead with her friends, and thanked me for coming with them. For now, at least, I’m a positive addition to her life. I’ll take it while I can.

Fostering your kid’s natural interests pays big dividends. It would be easy to try to project my interests onto her, steering her toward things I’ve always enjoyed and would continue to enjoy doing with her. This year, though, as she randomly became obsessed with wild animals and famous painters, my husband and I have loved watching her immerse herself in the things she loves. She chooses books and toys and even movies based on those interests, and we can see her personality and God-given gifts emerging through them. That is much more important and satisfying than seeing a mini-me grow up in my shadow.

There are hundreds of unsung heroes in the school system. The school nurse was paid many a visit by my girl this year. (I had her number saved in my phone, for crying out loud.) She helped with our first year adjusting to food allergies and Epi-pens, administering Benadryl on more than one occasion, and that alone elevates her to hero status in my mind. The receptionists in the office bandaged my daughter’s hands and knees up when she face-planted in the car line. The ladies in the media center made a point of remembering my girl’s interests and holding books for her. The paraprofessionals took extra time with her when she was having a hard time. Teachers and administrators are heroes, of course, but there are so many others working hard every day to keep our kids safe and make them feel special. They deserve a lot of credit for what they do.

Seeing people love on your kid is pretty much the greatest thing ever. This was the first year that my daughter had a true best friend, and seeing them embrace in the hall or when they saw each other at the ballpark made my heart sing. She has lots of friends and her teachers all seem to love her *almost* as much as I do. It feels pretty great.

When your kid learns to do things you can’t do, your pride might be even greater than if you’d taught them yourself. My daughter has turned into a teeball rockstar. (Look out. It’s softball next season.) She learned sign language for a special program at church. She got the first grade art award for excellence in visual arts. It is incredible to watch her shine at things I can’t do and know that it’s her God-given gifts coming out.

Always, always, always ask for the picture. Her end of year program was yesterday, and I realized last night that once again, I forgot to have a picture taken of the two of us together. I always forget to do that, rightfully putting the emphasis on her during special occasions but also depriving her later on of pictures of mama and daddy at those events. We were there, obviously, but maybe she’ll like to see that. I need to be better about getting the picture.

Let your kid surprise you. My husband and I had no idea she was named Student of the Month this year, but she did. We didn’t find out until she came home with the certificate. We didn’t know she had been selected for the year-long art award, but she did. She got to watch our excited shock when they announced her name. I tend to want to be involved in everything and know just what’s going on with everything she’s doing, but sometimes I have to remember to back off and let her surprise me.

Food allergies are hard, but they don’t have to be the end of the world. We were terrified about sending her to school for the first time knowing the severity of her allergies, but we did what we had to do to keep her safe and had to let her go. There are resources and support systems and lots of lessons to be learned along the way. It’s hard and scary, but it’s not the end of the world. For that matter, anything else that comes our way might be hard and scary, too, but the world won’t stop turning then, either.

God really does love our kids more than we do. He sees their hearts and needs and fears and strengths, and He alone knows what is best for them. He can be trusted to put them in the class they need to be in, to put the right people in their path, to watch over them and keep them safe when they aren’t with us. He sees all and knows all and over them beyond measure.

It’s safe to say we all learned a lot over the past year or so. I have an idea what she’ll learn in second grade…but I wonder what lessons are in store for me? What unexpected lessons have you learned through your kids?

 

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