School is beginning. For us, this momentous day is two weeks from yesterday. In thirteen short days, my precious girl will walk into her Kindergarten classroom for the first time. Gone is the safe, well known and loving bubble of preschool, followed by a brand new and darling little school full of new little faces. Last Sunday, after Landon and I sat and made our “before summer ends” list, I sat and watched her carefully color her favorite characters. I studied her tiny hands, the methodical ordering of her toys who watched the bright colors fill the page, her sheepish grin as I kissed her precious head. I found myself wanting to wrap my arms around her and keep her small. Maybe if I keep her here longer, nestled against my chest, time won’t actually pass and the safety of our home can envelop us both. I want to ferociously protect her heart, and make sure the whole world sees her brains, her beauty and how much more she is than her bahas or a syndrome. I can’t of course… I know this. Even us semi-helicopter parents (or occasional hovercrafts) have to let go and send our children out into the world’s wild adventures.
This school year includes a world of big kids, their big ideas, big questions and possibly big stares or hugely hurtful comments. While starting the school year brings about butterflies for little ones and long school supply lists for parents, the top thing on my list is to encourage discussions or letters teaching kindness for your kiddos. This advice feels more poignant this year. I sit here not only on the precipice of my child entering the throngs of Kindergarten, but I am also a parent who has had to watch and live through some of our first big kid, tough and hurtful situations this summer.
This summer has been punctuated by sunshine, sunscreen, swimming, snuggles, Skittles, family love and unfortunately some truly unkind comments. As I shared in an earlier post, our first camp of the summer got off to a plain old terrible no good start. As recounted by Landon and partially by the camp, we came to understand that there was pointing and mean spirited words thrown in Landon’s face like confetti. Although she stood up to the boys and defiantly walked away, she told me days later that the same kids followed her around saying things and laughing. Laughing to her face, a cruel finger pointed in the air. So we settled into a different routine, a different camp and her brightness quickly returned upon finding new friends and free afternoon fun. Her immense pride has beamed since that awful week, as we rightly showered her with love and praise from the confidence she exuded.
We had moved on in conversation in our house, having found our new routine. Yet the subject returned just last week as our family went to the water park for the day, as is tradition to break up the haze of beach week. As our collective of parents milled about counting the cousins and making sure everyone had sunscreen, my step-daughter strayed from the brood and headed over to us. “Those boys, over there, they called Landon ugly. We all heard it.” I looked over at the girls and Landon was already rushing back for another turn on the slide. When she came out, I studied her face carefully asking if she was okay, did she want to talk about it. She looked up and smiled, shrugged and said she wanted to go on the slide again. Completely unaffected… this child just wanted to play… no time for nonsense boys. Her older cousins stunned, one into a fragile state of hurt and defensiveness, and sweet Anna and our older cousin escorted Landon the rest of the day. Meanwhile, I stalked around the pools, staring at the boys, until Eric calmly talked me off my aggressive ledge. Nothing was mentioned later, no questions and comments from her the rest of the week. While etched on my heart, those immature kids’ reactions didn’t impact her whatsoever. If only I had her superpower.
Instead, my attempted superpower is to inspire fellow parents to talk to their children. On the brink of a new school year, what would I tell those boys of summer if I had a chance to calmly talk to them? If I knew them well enough to have a chat, how would I try to coach them to be brave, to show kindness and acceptance? Where would I begin?
With school starting soon, I want to talk to you about two really important words- kindness and bravery. You’ve probably heard that you should be kind to your family for instance or your dog. And when you think of bravery, you might think of superheroes like Superman or Batman, fire fighters and so on. However… did you know that being kind IS being brave? I think that as a kid, showing kindness to others – like other kiddos that might look or sound different than you- that is one of THE bravest things you can do.
One of the kindest things I can imagine is standing up for someone else. Whether at school or around town, you might see another child and he or she might have glasses, they might wear hearing aids, have one arm, maybe he or she is in a wheel chair… I know that might sound pretty different than you. What I bet though is that they are actually just like you. They probably love Minecraft, Transformers, Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Legos, their dog. They probably love tacos and pizza and watching movies. What is also cool is that you can ask them really simple questions just to understand things a little better. Kindness can still sound like a question, you know? For instance… what are those button-shaped things by your ears? Why are your ears smaller? Does your wheelchair get to go fast? Questions are okay, especially if you are just curious and you do it with a kind voice.
Now what if you, yourself had something pretty different about you, how would you want another kid to treat you, say at school? I bet you’d want kids to just talk to you like you’re any other kid. I bet you would want them to invite you to sit with them at lunchtime in the cafeteria, to play at recess, to just be a friend. Some children have things like hearing aids to hear better, that’s all. They can run, laugh, swing, skip, play video games with the best of them. Things like pointing, though, pointing is just not cool. Pointing, laughing, using words like ugly… those actions are just plain ugly. Those actions are not brave. They are nothing like how real superheroes act. The real superheroes in fact are more like the kiddos with differences- who have had surgeries and have awesomely bionic hearing aids that allow them to hear just about anything.
My point is in all this is that kids that might seem different aren’t different at all. If being brave and hanging out with real life superheroes sounds awesome this school year – than choose kindness and make a new friend. There is simply nothing cooler than being kind and being brave. Oh and I hope you join us at the playground some day, we’d be happy to have you.