Over the next few weeks, many kids will be starting school for the very first time. Cue collective family panic. It is an unwieldy process. Notebooks have to be purchased and lunches packed. Everyone has to wake up earlier. Much earlier. If you are like our family, you have the challenge of convincing a three year old that he does in fact have to wear a uniform on the daily. It is the opposite of fun.
But of course, the practical panic inducing tasks pale in comparison to the emotional anxiety that takes hold. We worry about our kids. Will they be pleasant? Will the other kids like them? Are we clueless to that fact that our kid is the mini Dwight Shrute in the room?
I had a spiritual director years ago who said that having children is like your heart walking around outside of your body. And while this is certainly a beautiful image, it is also a painful one. Painful because we see their hearts break on occasion, for sure. But also difficult because we project so much of who we are onto them.
These days the parenting zeitgeist feels like one long Buzzfeed quiz. And at the end, instead of finding out which OITNB character we are, we feel critiqued by the universe.
Do you make your kids feel special?
C. I tattooed it on their forehead.
Our kids feel like our quiz results. And really, they sort of are. What are children if not a small embodiment of years of our collective decisions? And the petrifying thing about sending them off to school is that our walking baby “Crazy Eyes” now goes on educational display for the whole world to judge. Yikes.
Of course, the thrust of this anxiety is that it is really not about our kids at all. It is about us. They are truly their own people. Even as preschoolers, they will be making decisions without us. And yet, it feels like us out there, trying to keep our hands to ourselves and remembering to use “inside voices.”
Last weekend this came into sharp focus for me as we had our visit the classrooms/meet the teachers extravaganza. Folders were handed out, sign up sheets for Valentine’s Day parties passed around, and we learned where to pick up our little darlings for carpool. But instead of thinking about my own kid, I kept remembering what it felt like to be one. We sat together, a group of grown adults, in preschooler sized chairs, looking up at the sweet woman who will be shepherding our children. Maybe it was just me, but the second grade flashbacks were palpable.
There I sat, in the “library section,” trying to listen to what the teacher said while also making jokes in my head. Feeling unorganized before classes had already started. And being envious of all the moms who simultaneously knew what questions to ask while also already knowing the answers. Basically, I was 7 again.
Of course, there is not some all-knowing answer to this reality. There is only the mercy of our Lord. In this season of self judgment, filled with memories of our own adolescent transgressions and inadequacies, let us thank the heavens that we never have to be in 6th grade again. Instead we can do our darndest to focus on our kids as the individuals that they are and the people they are becoming. We can get down on our knees, and pray for the guidance to parent our children. Thankfully for me, those preschool chairs are really low to the ground.
P.S. If you’re picking up on what I’m putting down then come to the Mbird Conference in Houston this October! I’ll be talking about parenting, grace, and how to make a PB&J that will insight envy in all other parents. Just kidding. (But, if you know how to do that I’d love a handout.)