Dear New Kindergarten Mom,
Today was the first day of school.
I’m not your son’s teacher, but I work here at your son’s school.
The hallways were packed today, crowded with parents and students scurrying by, eager to find their classrooms, teachers, and friends.
And, through the crowds, I spotted you.
I saw you walking slowly down the hallway towards the kindergarten classes.
I saw the way your little boy was clinging to your hand, brand new backpack looming huge and heavy on his tiny little shoulders.
You approached me to find your son's teacher. I knelt down next to your little guy and asked him for his name. I saw how he buried his head into your side and refused to answer me. Or perhaps he could not answer. I could not tell, but either way, I smiled at you to let you know that it did not bother me, and to let you know he would be fine.
This is my thirteenth first day of school as an educator.
Six years as a classroom teacher.
Seven years as a literacy coach.
The fifth grade students from my first year of teaching have graduated from high school. Some have children of their own.
I have seen many first days of school come and go.
But, this year is different for me.
My heart tugs for your son in a way that it never has before. I’ve always loved and cared for the children who walk through these school doors, but today I feel deep empathy for you and for your son. Because, less than an hour before you walked through these doors, I was that mom, dropping off my own little boy for his first day of kindergarten at a different school just a few minutes down the road.
And so, for the first time in thirteen years, I asked you a question that I never thought to ask before. I asked you, “How’s it going, Mom?”
Because, for the first time in thirteen years, I really saw that worry on your face.
I saw the internal struggle that waged inside you, between holding your child safe and close beside you, and letting him go off into the big, scary world for the first time. You and I both knew what had to happen today. We knew you had to let go.
And so you took a deep, shaky breath. You spoke to me of your concerns for your child. You told me that he has difficulty communicating with others. You told me of his IEP. You told me that he sometimes has trouble sitting still, transitioning from place to place, and, most of all, of his shy and reserved nature. You worry about his ability to convey his needs to an adult and to reach out and make friends. As I assured you of the wonderful teachers and programs available for your son at the school, I saw your shoulders relax a bit. I know how important his care is to you.
I collected your information on my clipboard for his teacher’s class. I made sure we had your direct phone number. I checked that he had a bracelet on his backpack that indicated how he was getting home at the end of the day. You told me that he was going to ride the bus by himself for the first time. I could feel the unspoken worry within that statement. I imagined how my little boy would do if he had to navigate on a bus this afternoon by himself.
And so, I made you a promise.
I promised you that I would check on your boy during the day.
I promised you that I would find him at dismissal and make sure that he got on that bus.
I promised you this because I knew that you could not do it yourself. I hoped you would be able to relax knowing that there was at least one adult at school today who was watching out for your little guy, a child who required extra support.
I promised you this because, while I would not be able to be there for my own son at his school, I could be there for yours.
I promised you this because there were those at my son’s school who had already made the same promise to me.
You asked me if you could stay a little longer with your son, to sit next to him in the hallway outside his classroom door, to drop off the bags of school supplies to his teacher and ask her a few questions. I pointed you towards his teacher’s door and wished you well. I knew how much you needed to hear that reassurance from her that she would take care of him today and every day. You needed her to understand that he would have more special considerations than most children walking through her classroom door. You needed to hear that not only would she help to accommodate him, but that she could find it in her heart to do so without annoyance or resentment of the extra work and time he might cause her. That she would see him as a gift and not a burden.
I want to tell you, Momma, that I kept my promise to you today.
I checked on your little guy several times. I peeked on his class while his teacher was reading a book out loud. It’s called “The Kissing Hand,” and it’s about the love that a mother has for her son. In the story, the mother kisses her child’s hand on the first day of school, and she tells him that that kiss will stay with him all through the day. And, even though she isn’t there with him while he is at school, her love will be with him always. All the children were gathered around the teacher on the carpet, and your little guy sat up close to her, right by her feet. He was gazing out the window as her rhythmic voice flowed through the quiet room, but his teacher did not mind that he did not look at her with rapt attention like all the other children. She and I both knew that he was listening.
I found him in the cafeteria at lunch. I helped his little hands to reach the tray. I took extra time to explain his meal choices to him. And, as his classmates started jostling him in line because he was taking too long, and he started to melt down, I gently guided him to a quiet corner. I taught him how to breathe in through his nose like he was smelling a flower, and out like he was blowing a candle. When he was calm, he told me that he missed you. Then, we walked through the now quiet lunch line together at his own pace. I found him a seat at a table next to a friendly looking little boy.
The child looked over and asked, “Why is he crying?”
“He’s sad because he’s thinking about his mommy,” I told him.
“Don’t worry,” the friend told your son. “Everyone gets sad sometimes. I miss my mommy too.”
And then, as I opened his ketchup packs for his chicken nuggets, I told your son about what he would do during the rest of his school day. I walked him through his afternoon, step by step, just as I do for my own son when he gets anxious. I promised him that he would see you soon.
At the end of the school day, I found your child once again in the hallway. I saw his anxiety growing as the masses of children started congregating around him. I took him by the hand and guided him to the spot where he would wait for his bus. I showed him how to find bus sign with the color that matched the color on the band of his backpack. I made sure he walked up those steps onto that yellow bus, and I marveled at how small he was. I swear they get smaller every year. I made sure a caring fifth grade girl who was also on his bus would watch out for him, to make sure that he got off on the right stop, the stop where you would be waiting.
After all the children had gotten into their buses and cars, and the hallways were once again quiet, I made my way back to my office. I checked my phone and saw that I had a picture message waiting in my inbox. It was from a colleague who works at my son’s school, who also happens to be the mom of my son’s best friend. I opened the attachment to see a picture of Ben and his friend, smiling ear to ear as they ate their lunch in the cafeteria.
So I say this to you, kindergarten Momma. It’s hard to let go of our little guys, especially knowing the extra challenges that they face, but try not to worry too much. Someone is always there, watching out for him. My son once said that he is strong enough to be in kindergarten. And so is yours. This year, he will learn. He will grow. He will thrive.
A teacher at your son's school