What is it about school?

Heading off into the world…

There was one moment when I just wanted to grab her hand and pull her back to me.

Unfortunately, that would be quite embarrassing to have the entire busload of kids laughing at the mom who couldn’t let go, so I backed off and moved back up the driveway so she could get on without a desperate mother clinging to her little hand.

What is it about school? Friends have told me and told me, “Oh, once they start school time just starts to fly, and they just move further and further away from you all the time.”

Good God, there is something really sad about that, until you realize in many ways they are just moving further and further away from you from the moment they are born, from the minute they eat their first solid food, the second they take their first steps. Is that sad or is that joyous? I feel a bit of both. It is the ultimate in bittersweet, really. I rejoice in every first in my babies’ lives, and yet I feel a twinge of sadness. Last week I finally hauled all of the baby gear and sweet wee clothes out of every closet and from beneath every bed and got rid of all of it. Other babies are using it all now. This was due in no small part to the fact my youngest child was about to start kindergarten and is clearly far from being a baby anymore. But it still hurt.

It is a letting go like nothing else I have experienced in my life. I am no longer a parent to babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. I am out of that club. I can offer wise words as someone who has been there, but a new parent would probably think to themselves, “Oh, she is not HERE where I am, so she does not KNOW.”

So here I am with two schoolgirls. I am the lunch maker, the form-signer, the one who tries every afternoon, like a dentist trying to pull teeth, to extract some meagre nugget of information from our children about their day at school. After years of spending most hours of the day with her, it is hard, really hard, to be relegated to this seemingly secondary role. Yikes, could I be taking it personally? Yes, other than sleep time, a teacher now spends more hours a day with my child than I do. Who knew that could be so tough to swallow? Even when the teacher is wonderful and caring, it still burns.

When our kindergartener comes home from school, she is exhausted and exuberant and bursting with all the new experiences. I try to see it all through her eyes, all the glittering freshness of being out in the world on your own for the first time. Every thing we take for granted, it’s pretty darn thrilling to her, bus rides, lunch kits, recess, a whole class full of other children who she just knows will be her best friends.

I smile and I enjoy the moments when she bursts out with some little story about her day. I look into her eyes and I see the baby that she was just a short while ago, the way she used to look at me when she was tiny and her parents were the centre of the universe. And I see that we are still her centre. Her universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

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Give me strength

Early morning, Horsefly Lake

Serenity, where are you?

It is a good thing I just got home from my refresher class on mindfulness-based stress management. Strangely enough, one of the topics of discussion was the potential role of mindfulness education in the school system. My Grade one child tells me when I get home that we should not send her snacks and lunch in the containers we always use, because a couple of girls have been teasing her about them, telling her they are “baby containers.” One of these girls is also apparently telling all the other kids she doesn’t like to “shut up.”

Oh my GOODNESS. Holy crap, even.

Alright, they are baby containers, in that we have had them since the girls were babies and we still use them. But the real issue for me is how to teach my children to withstand these kinds of petty but hurtful exchanges. There are times when I am completely at a loss. I think I am hyper-aware, for as a child I was relentlessly teased and bullied, both on the bus and in school. I remember with perfect clarity that feeling of being completely helpless, profoundly alone and at the mercy of those taunting kids, never knowing what to say or how to fight back. It really does have a lifelong impact.

It makes my face feel hot just thinking about other kids being mean to my child. I find myself wondering why there always have to be children who  pick on other kids to make themselves feel powerful. I suppose school is in some ways just a microcosm of the world. Now that one of our children is in school, I am always on the lookout for signs that anything is amiss. I do find that negative attitudes sometimes seem to breed on the schoolyard, and a few nay-saying apples can spoil the whole bunch. More than anything I want to teach the girls skills that will help them keep a positive attitude, be brave and resilient in the face of teasing, never bully and to help those who are being bullied.

I know, it’s a tall order for four- and six-year-olds. My expectations are HUGE.

Seriously, though, mindfulness and the power of positive thinking are life skills that I myself am studying and working on constantly, and we are trying to impart some these ideas to the girls. We all know negative thoughts and words just create more negative thoughts, and any of us who have struggled with depression know all too well where that road leads. As more children are diagnosed (or not diagnosed) with mental health issues, I think the time has come for parents and schools to take a new look at how mindfulness and empathy affect how a child grows and develops.

The wonderful “Roots of Empathy” program is a perfect example of something that really works. From their website  I pulled this description:

Started in 1996, Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood infant and parent who engage students in their classroom.  Over the school year, a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor guides the children as they observe the relationship between baby and parent, understanding the baby’s intentions and emotions. Through this model of experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a catalyst, helping children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

Empathy is something that doesn’t always come naturally, and it can be tough to teach. Kids are pretty much “all about me” and that is developmentally appropriate up to a certain point, or so the books say. I am thinking that children who learn to empathize are less likely to hurt or tease others. Teaching children social and emotional competence begins at home, of course, but if that kind of assistance is lacking, the school could at least give students a chance to learn those vital life skills. A little classroom time spent on mindfulness exercises, basic meditation to teach children to quiet their minds, simple yoga to help get the wiggles out, all of these could fit. Better for them to learn skills that will help their mental health and concentration than to spend their off-time playing video games.

So how did I respond to Kat’s baby container complaints? Well, I suggested she tell those girls that SHE is being environmentally responsible, bringing a litterless lunch with reusable containers, and everyone should be doing the same. I will be interested to see if she uses that comeback. In the meantime, I am off to do some deep calming breaths.