For me, this past week has been absolutely consumed by getting the kids ready to head back to school: standing in line at Staples, braving the crowds at the malls, and navigating my way through the grocery store in an attempt to stock up on lunch supplies. This is a big year for my kids—and for me and my husband. Our daughter is entering her final year of elementary school, and our son is starting 1st grade. I’ve been waiting for this day since the beginning of August—you may remember from the post “The Long, Lazy Days of Summer”—and now it has finally arrived.
The early morning was filled with the excitement of putting on never-before-worn clothing, double-checking that backpacks contained all of the shiny new school supplies, and impatiently waiting for the time when we would finally leave for the unknown adventure that is school—for a 1st grader, that is. In other words, it was just shy of total chaos.
As I was walking my kids up to their school, I was suddenly struck by two overwhelming emotions. For my son, I felt utter joy that he was finally going to attend a full day of public school. No more daycare, before-care, after-care, or any other kind of “care” that requires us to make a monthly payment. For the last ten consecutive years, we have been paying someone else to watch our children so that we could go to work. Not anymore! If you could have seen me waving good-bye to him for the last time, you would have seen a smile on my lips, and a happy dance in my eyes—I think I may have even skipped a little on the way back to my car.
Before experiencing this moment of joy, however, I had just felt quite the opposite. As I stared at the back of my daughter’s freshly curled head running toward her awaiting friends, I was overcome with a feeling of dread. She barely said good-bye to me. I didn’t even have time to tell her to have a good day, or to say that I loved her (not that I would have actually said it for fear of getting one of her angry stares—but that’s not the point). This is it, the last year before middle school, the last year before she becomes a true teenager with all of the angst, drama, and erratic emotions that comes with them. This is the last year that I will be able to identify every child in her class by name, and—for the most part—recognize the corresponding parent. In just ten short months, elementary school will come to an end, and no matter how much I wish I could slow it down, my daughter is rapidly growing up before my eyes.
I’ve been trying to think of what advice I’d like to give her as she heads back to school. If I remind her to make sure she studies for her tests, listens to her teacher, and turns in her homework on time, she will roll her eyes and tell me that she already knows to do that. As I write this, I am suddenly reminded of a post I recently read by Scary Mommy called “Too Pretty To Do Homework.” In the post, Scary Mommy writes about a t-shirt that was in the news because of the outrageous—and completely ridiculous—message it contained. The t-shirt read: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.” This made me think about some advice I once gave my daughter that is probably appropriate to repeat as she heads into Sixth Grade.
I told her a fact about boys and girls that I believe to be true: as she gets older, she will more than likely witness some girls—maybe even her friends—making themselves appear less intelligent just so that boys will like them. I also explained that she will more than likely encounter boys who will make fun of her for being smart or for working hard in school. When I first told her this, my daughter looked at me in complete disbelief—she couldn’t imagine why anyone would act stupid just so that a boy would like her. I think her disbelief stems from the fact that she likes being smart, she is competitive and would never willingly do poorly on a test, and she honestly—for now—doesn’t care what boys think. Just last year, she was presented with an award by the Board of Education in our town for achieving high success on a National test—she was the only girl, and she was immensely proud of herself.
So, my advice to her—if she ever finds herself not raising her hand even if she knows the answer just because some boy had called her a “nerd”—being smart and doing well in school will take her wherever she wants to go in life. I hope she always remembers how she felt that day in the hallway of the high school—standing amongst boys older than herself—when she was recognized for working hard, and for her success.