mums first day of school shoes

Hey there, lady, I was just at Kmart buying a spare (cheap) drink bottle for my boys today, and they took 10 minutes to pick which one they wanted, and I was thinking about you and me and the first day of school. Here are a few things I want us to know.

They go to school, and you go to school. We all get schooled. They learn to read, we learn how to read them better. They learn how to get along with other kids, how to add and subtract, how to create and discover and write and learn. And so do you. It will be about how use your time, how to get along with teachers and parents, how to discover yourself as your time constraints change. You’re going to learn just as much as they will this year. 

When you walk up to your child’s classroom, expect to cut through a thick layer of invisible anxiety, first in yourself, then in everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the hopes and dreams and fears of every mother standing at the door as she releases her precious cherub into the ocean of the world. Every other kid looks like an octopus or a shark, and Nemo has a broken fin. Give her grace because this isn’t easy, and if you are honest, it’s not easy for you. All of us have invisible fears about our children that we hide behind our bragging and comparing. But you’re afraid, and this year you get to learn how to find your way out of the fear. You get to see the other kids as just kids who are all imperfect, all learning, and all on a pathway of discovery.

Speaking of bragging or comparing, you don’t have to do either. Protect yourself from this. When someone tells you something great about their child, it’s not an insult to your child or an invitation for you to tell a better story. You’ll find the women with whom you can connect who will have a genuine interest in your life and your kids, who don’t see your life as a threat to theirs. Wait for those people. While you wait, get rid of your own instinct to brag about yourself or your kids. There’s no need to fear, my friend. You are in process, and you are going to be ok, too. No need to come across as anything else to anyone else.  

At times it will feel like you are standing in a line with your child and every smile, every conversation with someone new, every invite for a coffee or playdate is going to feel like approval, the badge that says I am Someone, I am a Good Mother, I have a Good Child. Fight against this mentality. You don’t have to talk to another person at drop off. You have time to make friends. Friendship does not come easy. It takes time to lay down a groundwork of trust. You don’t have to tell the other mums you meet every deep, dark thing about your life. You don’t have to tell them the inner workings of your family life.

It takes a long time to find other women with whom you can genuinely connect who then you can deeply trust. Waiting is worth it. And if the women in your life end up not being in school, that’s totally fine, too.

Your kids don’t become magically different at school. The responsible kid will still be responsible, and won’t lose hats or jumpers or drink bottles. The kid with her head in the clouds, will still have her head in the clouds. Get this kid cheaper things. No need to feel guilty about that, this way you can replace their things without heaping shame on them. There’s a lot for kids to keep track of at school, they shouldn’t feel bad about losing a drink bottle here or there. We’ve all lost our expensive phones, right?

The teacher gets a version of your child, likely you get a different version. Both versions are real and true, and the joy of being a parent is working to understand all versions of our kids and helping them integrate their compartments into a whole. Your teacher sees a different side of your child, and you need their insights. Your teacher is your teammate, if you work together, your child wins. 

(An addendum here: There are I’m sure a tiny handful of terrible teachers out there – I’m sorry if you have one. Get on your child’s side, fill up their tanks with encouragement when they are down. Pray that the experience will teach them about empathy and perseverance. Talk to school admin. Hopefully next year will be better.)

Learn to see your child as one in a group, not the only one. The teacher has to attend to the group, and there are many others he or she needs to pay attention to. Your child is not especially deserving of unique attention. At least not more so than anyone else. Trust that every child will get the time they need. Trust that you are still your child’s number one influencer. Whatever their school cannot give them, you can fill in the gaps at home.

When you hear the thought, “My child deserves (a better teacher, a nicer table-mate, smarter classmates, more current technology),” replace it immediately with a list of what you can be grateful for. I’m thankful my kid gets to go to school. I’m thankful my child has food to eat. I’m thankful for clean water. I’m thankful for warm clothes in the winter. I’m thankful for a summer hat. Entitlement will cloud your judgment, entitlement will not let you see your kids for who they are, entitlement will steal your happiness.

Your child has unique needs that you can see more clearly than everyone else. But remember that there is a school full of kids. Every kid is there to learn, to develop as a person, to grow and to change. Learn to see other children. Learn to talk to them, appreciate them, learn to see your child as one in a group. We want them all to succeed.

Expect there to be issues between your kid and other kids. This may be the year you find out that your child isn’t as truthful as you hoped. It may be the year you find out that they like to steal or cheat or hit other kids. Maybe they started cutting class or failing a subject. Don’t let the disappointment you feel in your child become a disappointment you feel in yourself. Your kid gets to make his or her own decisions – this is true of a five-year-old and an 18-year-old. Their decisions are not always a reflection of your home or your parenting. They are their own people. Yes, you’ll have to lay down the necessary boundaries, but guess what? Your kid needs your love and your anchoring support in them as a person especially when they have disappointed you. And you and I need another lesson on how to dig deeper to find that unconditional love everyone needs.

Find the soothing words you need to use on yourself and your kids for specific stressful situations. For me it is this sentence, “We have enough time.” I always give us permission to be late. The irony of course is that we are almost never late, but giving all of us the permission to run late allows for a peaceful attitude in my heart and hopefully theirs.

You are going to need so much wisdom to know when you need to deal with something with your child and when you need to involve their teacher, other parents and members of the school. But trust that when you need wisdom, you will receive it. Walk into your decisions with a humble confidence. You can do this. Please tell yourself this every day, every week, every term. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. 

Trust that you will make mistakes.

Expect your kids to make mistakes.

Plan for the teachers to make mistakes.

See mistakes as the doorway for all of you to grow.

You’ve got a year of growing ahead of you, my friend. Here’s to the new branches in your life, and here’s to the good fruit.

Now it’s your turn: I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a kid starting school in 2019 or continuing on in school? How are you feeling? Drop a note in the comments. Got any good tips to share with the rest of us? Just write it all out here – we need all the ideas, right?!?!

confessions graphic FINAL

There are musicians that partner with you in the different stages of life, and for me Sara Groves is one of those. My little sister gave me “Fireflies and Songs” before I left for Geneva to be with not-yet-Husband.

He and I started our three months in the same city by getting engaged and ended it with our civil wedding. It was packed three months, let’s say. The majority of our relationship was long distance, so these months were virtually the only time we had to understand the daily ins and outs of each others lives.

I used to sit in my apartment – a friend’s that she generously shared with me in her own last months in Geneva – listening to song after song from “Fireflies,” writing in my journal, staring at the Jet D’Eau and the lake, trying to come to grips with what was happening in my life. It was a happy time, yes, but it felt so deep, so serious, the process of getting ready to commit my whole life to another person, and I found comfort in the raw honesty of Sara Groves’ words about the difficulties of marriage.

A few weeks ago one Saturday morning, I got out of bed and walked down with Baby in my arms. Husband and Little Boy were in the kitchen making pancakes, and this CD was playing through our sound system. I wasn’t fully down the stairs before the wave of memories took me back to the couch from Pakistan, the fireplace, Anna’s little speakers on the floor.

We’re looking for the music in the music box, tearing it to pieces, trying to find the song… 

I had almost forgotten the order of songs on the CD because when the next song started playing, I heard season after season of the past three years of babies and bellies, marriage and changes and life. I read somewhere that Groves wrote “From This One Place” about her struggle with the onset of anxiety in her life; she didn’t have it before but one day it started when she was about to go on stage and play (I’m working off my memory for this one so it might not be correct).

Maybe one of the reasons why I struggled so much was there was never a real diagnosis, no one ever thought I was depressed or anxious. I was functioning, and in a lot of ways I was more than “just” functioning. We ate well, our apartment was in order, the boys were always taken care of. I didn’t shower often, but you know. There was never anything technically wrong, but it didn’t change the sadness of soul that was permanently there.

From this one place, I can’t see very far… I hear her singing from our white curving staircase in the yellow house in Stockholm 2013, and it’s the words I want to go back and tell my 28, 29, 30-year-old self.

All I could see was breastfeeding that would never end, never having my body to myself again.

All I could see was never having a full night of sleep again.

All I could see was the mountain of work that childcare is, the physical, emotional and spiritual work that seemed to never ever end.

All I could see was time I no longer had with the husband I loved and with myself.

All I could see was that hobbies, friends, the things I loved were changing, disappearing.

All I could see was a new version of myself, a version I could not recognize, a person I did not know.

From this one place, I can’t see very far. From this one moment, I’m square in the dark. 

My outlook was one of total lack – I did not have enough, I did not have what I needed, I did not have what I wanted.

But the truth was so much simpler.

From this one place, I could not see very far. 

Difficult times always feel desperate, and it’s these seasons when we are most tempted to make declarations about our lives. “I will never _______, it will always ________.” It wasn’t the time to judge, to have expectations, to whine, to complain, to try to change people and control. It was the time to grieve and to wait. 

I walked into the kitchen where Husband was making pancakes, and Little Boy was screaming excitedly waiting for his. We sat down as a family at our Saturday morning table, pancakes with maple syrup with two boys that we adore, Husband holds my hand, Little Boy holds the other one and we pray.

We thank God for giving us our daily bread, butter and maple syrup.

And I move on from this table with life, with confidence, with peace, with security, with joy overflowing, and truly I cannot believe it because I can remember how deep the pain ran these past three years, the bitter taste still on my tongue. But I know the battle I waged against insufficiency, I can recount every fight with the demons of insecurity and disappointment, and I know that when I look at my open hands today and see beauty and good and joy and safety and peace, I know that these are the fruits plucked only from the tree of suffering.

From this one place, I can’t see very far…. these are the things I will trust in my heart: You can see something else. 

What are you facing in your life today? What declarations are you making about this time? Is it the time to judge? Or the time to wait? 

This post is Day 15 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)