The First Day of School and Every Day Thereafter: Suckerpunches, F-words, and Shark Week

The first day of school… I remember the first day of school with great fondness. Every year I got my picture taken in the same place- in front of the old Roslyn bank. The background stayed the same, but the pictures told of evolution, change and puberty. I always loved wearing my new threads, catching up with friends, seeing my crush that I dreamed about all summer and finding out which teacher I got and who was in the class. The smell of bus exhaust and the sight of a red apple, the new peaches and the noise of giggly children all making their way to one place, school, brings back memories of fall every year.

Yesterday my kids had their first day of school and with those same sights and sounds I sent them off to experience the life of being 3rd and 5th graders. The night before the first day, we sat them down and handed them “back to school message” bags. I built it up like it was really something cool, but it was just a brown paper bag with candy in it. But I had wanted to send them to school on the first day with a special treat and as I wandered the grocery store a few days prior this is what I came up with.

So in these bags they opened other little bags and each one had a message written on it. The first bag was full of gummy frogs and it said “May you make great leaps this year!” The second one was full of gummy letters and the message said: “Remember it’s not about the grades, it’s about doing your best.” The third bag had rock candy in it with a message that said “May you always know that God is your Rock, immoveable.” And the last bag had candy in what looked like a baby bottle and it’s message said “And never forget we love you and you will always be our babies.”

I realized this was way too much candy to send them in their lunch so we gave it to them the night before to be portioned out over the week. I don’t tell you this story to pinterify (is that a word? It is now.) my life. I don’t think this was overly cute or significantly more special than someone else making waffles for breakfast…I tell you this to share my heart as a mother.

There is something that takes over your body when you become a mom. And whatever it is that makes me a mom is fierce and has a strong depth that cannot be held back. People call us mama bears. Here is how intense we love our kids…I will put it this way… ‘shark week’ seems to be a big deal. I am thinking they should have ‘mom week’.  Moms’ teeth are that big, their hunger is that great and their attack is that scary. And I know that any mom reading this knows exactly what I mean. I worry for my kids more than I have ever worried for myself. I pray for my kids more than I have ever prayed for myself. I feel for my kids more than I feel anything else. And in this depth of emotion, allowing our kids to feel pain, to be vulnerable, to trust and be disappointed, to hope in what might never be realized, to suffer, to lose innocence…all these challenge the very core of what a mom feels innately like she needs to fight against.

Sending your kid off to school isn’t easy, saying “Have a great day learning what a douchebag is. And when that kid sucker punches you in the guts because he is angry about his dad leaving, just take it like a man. And when those girls tell you they want to see your abs, just smile and say no thank you. And don’t forget daughter, when they tell you you’re ugly, just smile and show them the love of Jesus!” This is not what we want to say to our children, nor what we want them to experience. Yet these kinds of stories do come home with our kids (at least ours) and we usually find ourselves processing them at the dinner table in between classroom fart stories, vegetable swallowing, and “get your elbows off the table.”

I sat with a mentor recently to talk about some of my worries regarding my kids. They each face their own struggles, and I have been a bit sleepless over them. In my worry induced insomnia, I decided to turn to a woman who is beyond me in years, experience and wisdom. I shared with her my fears. She looked at me and said,

Their childhood is an education.”

Their childhood is an education is not a statement about making sure they learn their ABCs’, the difference between a verb and a noun and how to spell “M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i”. She was reminding me of something that I am often trying to avoid. Every time they fail, they learn something. Every time our kids are left out or looked over, they learn something. Every time they stumble upon a shortcoming they learn something. And if I take away that education, they will not learn. If I try to protect and safeguard, if I try to cover over and make everything better, then I am literally taking away their teacher, their text book and their ride to school. And even though I want to do all these things to protect their self esteem, to help them know they are loved, they have to know it to be true in the midst of pain, hardship and struggle.  

I can choose to literally take away the education that will shape my children’s character, values and even their faith or I can enter into this school of life and help be one of their teachers.

(side note: And might I remind us that we are all children and might I remind us all that this life is an education.)

When my son faces a personal battle within his mind, I can invite him into the suffering of Jesus, who deeply understands pain and hardship. And I can lay in bed with him at night and whisper in his hear “Jesus is your friend and He understands pain. Talk to Him and know He fully loves you as you fully are.”  When my daughter feels hurt by a friend, I can sit down right there and then on the sidewalk and I can remind her not to believe the lie that she is not enough. I can hold her hands and look her in the eyes and remind her to believe this truth: “God made you. Don’t forget who you are no matter what anyone else tells you. He made you special. You are a wonderful daughter and He is your perfect Father.”  I can only remind them of the things I know to be true whether that is in whispers or lessons or bags of candy with words that I hope they hold onto on an average Wednesday.  Then I can send them to school the next day to face the same education, and as vulnerable as it is, I can trust that same Friend and Father to take care of my kids and be their best Teacher.

Perhaps the greatest work of a parent is entering into the education of childhood and allowing pain and struggle to be our children’s teacher. And we can only do this by faith, handing over our ‘always babies’ to the One who gave them to us in the first place.

May God be with all the mama sharks out there. My prayers are with you as I pray for my own babies. And for those of you who are feeling the anguish of your own current education, know that you have a Father and a Friend. I continue to be schooled by my kids. – Willow

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