This week my daughter attended JumpStart. Over the course of five days, kids who are about to start kindergarten go to their school for a few hours each day. While there, they get to meet their teachers and “practice” a few of the things expected of kindergartners. On the first day of JumpStart, when all the kids formed a straight line and walked out to their classroom, there was my daughter, sticking out her hand to shake the hand of the assistant principal. I was so proud of her, my little go-getter.
Some of my own earliest memories date back to my experiences as a grade-schooler. I loved school. Reading, social studies, learning all sorts of things about the world. I think my daughter will too. She is very curious, smart and social.
Today, however, she faced a tough lesson. A little girl she used to play with was visiting from another state. We set up a play date and it didn’t go very well. My daughter wanted to play but the other girl didn’t want to play with her. She has come up against situations like this a few times, usually with kids she knows from preschool or nearby playgrounds, kids who’ve moved on to a different school or a new neighborhood. I know this is something she will confront over and over again.
So I talked with my daughter about friendships and how even if there are some kids who don’t want to be friends with her, there will always be others who do. I told her to focus on the kids who do want to play with her and not spend too much time thinking about those who don’t. We named a few of the friends she plays with now who were also at the playground, other friends she has who weren’t there, along with a couple kids at her new school who have already shown an interest in her.
Looking back at the many years I spent in school, and all the things I learned, I am reminded the most important lessons didn’t come from a book. I recall the sting of rejection, of wanting a certain person to like me, to want to be my friend or date me and how awful I felt when they didn’t return my interest. I spent too many hours worrying about what was wrong with me, what I could do differently to “get them to like me.” Should I dress the way they do? Or listen to the music they like? Should I pretend to like football games when I would rather spend the afternoon kayaking in my canoe at the lake?
Along the way I made more poor choices than I care to admit. I wish I’d felt more self-confident, that it was okay if I was picked first for the spelling bee but last for a softball game, and it didn’t matter if my “hip-huggers” didn’t fit like they did on the “popular” girls who were slimmer-hipped and less curvy than me. I could have saved myself a lot of grief!
I don’t know how to get this message, one of the most important in life, across to my daughter. I never talk about whatever insecurities I might have about my appearance in front of her. I try to overhype her strength, smarts, and tenacity. The other day she said to me, “Don’t I look pretty today?” because she was wearing a fancy dress and I responded, “You look pretty every day. Your dress is lovely, but you are a beautiful girl inside and out no matter what you are wearing!” This is the absolute truth, except I know that truth will get twisted, by her peers or ads that emphasize you can’t be pretty unless you wear this or look like that. There will be pressure to be pretty over all the other qualities that matter so much more.
Which is why we also talk a lot about positive qualities in people, how it’s better to be caring and how people don’t like it if you’re sassy or mean. I’ve told her when she’s at school, if other kids are mean to her she should walk away, and if other kids are mean to someone else–even if they say mean things when the other person isn’t around–you should still walk away, or tell a teacher. We focus on what it means to be a good friend.
One of the things I looked forward to as a mom was the chance to experience all of this again. I wanted to see my child navigate her way through school, friendships, learn about herself and the world. It’s not always easy, whether you’re experiencing it yourself or watching someone you love. Sometimes, in fact, it’s downright painful. But you know what? That whole messy, crazy, mixed-up world we live in? That’s life.
Here’s to a new chapter!
It’s all about the journey,