Have The Day You Have

14 Aug

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.

It wasn’t.

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?
When?
Where?
Why?
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.

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15 Responses to “Have The Day You Have”

  1. Pamela August 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Oh dear. Hang in there. I haven’t been there yet, but I can imagine how hard it will be to watch my little gal navigate some of the school transitions. I hope things get better for her and you too!

  2. Laurie August 16, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    I had this same thing with my daughter when she started school. I ended up loaning her a necklace of mine (gold chain with butterfly) so she would know I was always with her and knew she could handle the days. It helped her confidence. By the way, she wore that same necklace several times in school when she was stressed/anxious, and wore it last year in her wedding. Sometimes a talisman is all we need!

    • Hillary Manaster August 16, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      I LOVE that idea!! I am definitely going to try it. Thanks so much!

      Sent from my iPhone

    • Hillary Manaster August 21, 2012 at 10:44 am #

      Off to school with a special necklace and a smile this morning. Thanks again for the great idea!

  3. damecatoe August 16, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    This day for us is Monday, x2, because we have twins.

  4. Ellie (@MusingMomma) August 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Your story made me tear up! My oldest starts kindergarten in 11 days (but who’s counting) and as excited as we both are, I’m starting to get very anxious and emotional as the day draws closer. You do a great job of putting it in perspective though and reminding us that as parents we sometimes just need to step back as kids settle in. Hope she gets her sea legs soon!

    • Hillary Manaster August 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      We hardly paid attention to the countdown either 😉 I used to teach early elementary school (1st and 2nd grades), and I always thought I was pretty tuned in to how emotional the beginning of the school year could be….being on this side of the classroom door has been a tremendous eye-opener! Good luck! I hope your kindergartner gets off to a great start!

  5. tiaraandglasses August 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    You’ve definitely touched on all the worries of both kids and parents! My daughter starts school in a month, and we have decided to send her to French school. We speak English at home, so it will be quite an adjustment for her. On top of the usual newness to get used to she will also be hearing and learning a new language.

    • Hillary Manaster August 16, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      That will definitely be an adjustment, but an exciting one! Bonne Chance!

  6. Sarah August 17, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    It’s a long story as to how I stumbled on your blog… but I’m so glad I did. My daughter also started K last week, and my reactions to her first day were nearly identical to yours. She did say she had a great first day – and she is rarely shy – but I could see something was off. She has a hard time being “present” (we like to say she walks around with her head in the clouds), and the worry about what had actually happened overwhelmed me.

    It sounds like many parents have a similar perspective… and despite my tendencies to grill her – I just waited for the details to trickle out slowly. Drip drip drip. Agonizing.

    My sage of a mother (who taught for 30 years too!) insists that the “sea legs” (as you said) are coming. It is overwhelming for everyone. Parents, teachers, and most of all kids. But in time, they’ll remember it as one grand adventure.

    Thanks for putting into words what I’ve been thinking about for 11 days straight. Good luck to you all!

    • Hillary Manaster August 17, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      Hey Sarah, I love the idea of this one day being a grand adventure! I think you’re 100% right. I hope your kindergartner is well on her way to finding her sea legs too 🙂

  7. Erin September 12, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Oh my, I am afraid I am tearing up reading your post… and I am sitting in public. I just sent my daughter off to Kindergarten this year as well. Our district offers a month of half-day intro to K course in the summer, which we did and she LOVED. Fast forward to the first day of school- I had no worries! She sang and danced all the way into school. I thought we were in the clear, but it is clear we are not. I worry about her so much at school. I too, want to drill her with many of the same questions on your list. She is a quiet kid with big worries and I just want to be there to hold her hand a little longer!

    Hugs to you as you both navigate your way through this big change!

    • Hillary Manaster September 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      I completely understand! It’s amazing how overwhelming the anxieties of our little ones can be! Hang in there – each day is a little easier! Wishing you and your kindergartner a speedy adjustment period 🙂

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