May 2015 archive

Thanking the Heroes of My Son’s Childhood, His Teachers

My son is graduating elementary school this spring. As part of the fifth grade culmination celebrations, his teachers have asked that I write a “proud letter” to him full of memories of his time at the school and stories of his growth since kindergarten, all intertwined with my expressions of love and pride. It’s a great privilege to have the opportunity to let one of my favorite people know just how proud of him I am. In a few weeks I will sit down and write this letter in earnest, and when I do, I’m sure I will shed a tear or two.


But in the meantime, every time I start to draft a sentence or sentiment in my mind, I get stuck on the fact that I can’t possibly write a proud letter to my son, without first acknowledging the appreciation I have for his teachers over the last six years.


While I’m certainly proud of the person my son is and even more proud of the person he is on his way to becoming, my husband and I can’t take all of the credit. For nine of the twelve months of the year, from kindergarten through fifth grade, Jack has spent more of his waking hours at school than he has at home. At age eleven, over half of his lifetime has been shaped, defined and guided by the teachers and staff at school. We couldn’t be more grateful for each and every one of them.


These educators have not just filled our child’s head with knowledge, but they have filled his heart with a passion for various subject matters. And more importantly, they’ve instilled in him a lifelong love of learning. Jack has the gift of curiosity and knows that the best questions are not the ones that lead us to an answer, rather the ones that lead us to the next question.


I know that teachers are pulled and yanked in more directions than ever today from paperwork and procedures to testing requirements. While I can only imagine that their workload is ever expanding, I appreciate that his teachers have still made the time for the special hands on learning opportunities like releasing butterflies, building volcanoes, having a state fair and doing an immigration study. These programs follow a teaching philosophy that Jack quotes often. He’s learned it from a poster hanging in his fourth grade teacher’s classroom and references it at least once a month, as I suspect he will for the rest of his life, and think fondly of her every time he does:


The classroom walls, hallways and landscape of the school have become so familiar that it has become a second home for our kids. When one thinks of a home, warm thoughts come to mind that evoke special memories. Some memories can be so vivid that we can almost sense the sounds, smells and feel of that space. We feel comfort and security at home. We feel loved at home. The school is a beautiful building, but it feels like home to our kids not because of the brick and mortar of the place, but because of the friendly faces that fill the hallways. All of these feelings of home exist because the principal, teachers and staff have created the spirit of home for not just Jack, but for all of the students.


I believe that the teachers and staff truly know my child. They know what motivates him and how to foster his interests whatever those may be, from the more common to the more unique. They’ve grown his confidence by building upon his natural talents and interests be it art, science, reading or social studies. Jack considers the greatest achievements of his lifetime to be the day that he ran 100 miles in a PE program. He spent years working towards that goal. Those teachers and that program provided a defining moment for this kid, just as there are so many defining moments created during these years at school.


The secretaries somehow managed to know his name and our names and cheerfully tracked him down for me so many times when I was worried that he was lost at school pick up. He was always there, just delayed at his locker. I never needed to be worried. Jack was never lost. The adults in his school don’t just see my child, they know him and see right into the heart of who he is.


The teachers and staff have taken the time to know not just Jack, but to truly know us as an entire family. I’ll never forget the hug that his first grade teacher gave me on the eve of my youngest child’s birth day. It was the day before school started and I had just met her twenty minutes earlier. I was scheduled to give birth to Jack’s youngest sister on his first day of first grade, so my heart was in two places. In fact each and every day that I send my child to school my heart is in two places. As seasoned nurturers, the teachers know this and have reassured me that their arms are more than capable to protect and carry my most precious cargo.


While Jack has grown up with the teachers and staff over the last six years, my husband and I have also grown up as parents. Jack is our oldest child, so I’ve spent over half of my lifetime as a mother in a partnership with these teachers. The teachers have provided patient support as I’ve found my own footing in these tricky waters of parenthood. I still cringe when I remember how I asked his kindergarten teacher about not just the school-related subjects of reading and phonetic awareness, but also about the non-school-related subject of riding a bicycle with two wheels. She gave such a sincere response that I took it to heart as if it came directly from a parenting book. Be it good feedback or not-so-good feedback, my husband and I have taken every comment, every grade and every thought that the teachers have expressed on behalf of our children as true words of wisdom from the experts that they are.


I know these amazing individuals have their own families to grow and nurture, but I hope they understand what an important place they hold in our family and so many families in the community.

Because of them, our children will navigate the world and the people and experiences they encounter in a particular way. As my son pulls upon the memories of his school years and the lessons he learned at that time, a part of every one of his teachers will be in him as he gives, parents, teaches, leads, follows, travels, goes, stays, advises and listens.


To these wonderful teachers and staff – you are among the heroes of my son’s childhood. Thank you for what you’ve instilled, what you’ve preserved, and what you’ve inspired! When Jack entered the kindergarten door six years ago he brought a piece of my heart into that school. And when he exits the 5th grade door in a few weeks, that same piece of my heart will stay and remain with all of you. Thank you.

I Am Their Mother, But They Are Not Mine

I’ll never forget that day and that moment.   My baby was in his bouncy chair, looking up at the brightly colored mobile toys above him, clumsily reaching out for them. He was cooing and smiling so much that his little legs kicked with excitement and caused the chair to bounce more, multiplying his delight.


I laughed a little myself and said, “what do you see, Jack?” but he only gave me a polite side-glance before shifting his full focus back to the mobile toys. As I observed his enjoyment, I smiled and also felt a tiny tear run down my cheek.


I remember thinking that until that moment I had been the soul source of his entertainment for his entire lifetime! Keeping in mind that his entire lifetime was a mere few months at this point, my milk alone was his nourishment, my touch his comfort and my voice his point of familiarity. My womb had housed him for 40 weeks where I had talked to him and played music for him. During the pregnancy, I felt like he and I had our own running list of inside jokes and intimacies. He gave me kicks as signs of gratitude for the orange juice or chocolate I had just consumed. He had been my sidekick for business trips and family vacations.


I was his mother and he was mine, together we were intertwined. But watching him with the mobile toys that day, I realized that while I was his mother, he was not mine. A friend once told me that our children are not ours. She’s right. Motherhood by instinct allows us to love our children with a fierceness that is so intense that it is incomprehensible to imagine losing them. Yet there is an ironic cruelty to the role of motherhood because if we do it well, we raise our children to leave us and be their own independent selves.


This afternoon, now eleven years into motherhood, I had another similar and memorable moment. The baby who was once amused by the mobile toys is now a 5th grader and obsessed, as all of his classmates are, with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty. He has convinced my 7-year-old and 4-year-old daughters that they too love the putty. They even set up a lemonade stand last week to earn money for the putty.


They’ve been saving and talking about this for a while, discussing the putty color options and Jack providing his recommendation on which putty they should choose. After school today they carefully pooled their allowance and lemonade money and realized they had enough to each purchase a putty container of their own. They asked if we could go to the very tiny toy store in our very tiny town to buy the putty. With a great deal of fanfare, I said sure. They emptied their piggy banks and excitedly grabbed their wallets, eagerly chatting and skipping their way to the car. Their hearts were soaring and their minds racing, I could just tell.


When I pulled up to the store I decided to let them go in by themselves. We know the owners and I could park right in front of the door, and as I mentioned before, it is a tiny little store. Plus it would be a good experience for them to work this purchase out by themselves, just as they had worked out the lemonade stand by themselves.


As I put the car into park, I had a second thought and almost joined them. Not because I didn’t think they could make the purchase by themselves, but because I wanted to see how it would unfold. I wondered if my youngest daughter would decide she wanted to buy other things and throw a fit. I was curious how my middle daughter would calculate how far her $5 would take her or if my son would allow the girls to choose their own putty colors after all. I knew it was really a good opportunity for them to have this independence and make the purchase themselves. But I really wished I could be a fly on the wall. In fact, I really wish I could be a fly on the wall for their entire lives!


Just a few minutes later when the three of them marched out of the store with their wallets, and their bags and their pride, I had a strange, but good, feeling of not being needed entirely anymore. It wasn’t dissimilar to that moment years ago when my son, then a baby, was entertained by the mobile toys and simply gave me a side-glance.


As I sat in the car and looked at the three of them standing there on the sidewalk on the other side of the door, I got a glimpse into their lives together in the future. It was a bit of a sneak peak into their sibling relationship, independent of me. While the feeling was accompanied by a slight heartache, it was overall surprisingly kind of settling and very nice.


I can feel that as they get older, my children need me less and less. Or rather they need me in different ways. They don’t need me to hold their hand across the street or to pack their lunch. But they do need to me to give them my trust and to build their confidence. By allowing them to go into that store and make their own purchase today I gave them both.


These kids make me smile and make me cringe a million times in a day! They’re my favorite people and frustrate me to no end. I love them more than anything so of course it’s fun to see them in action. Watching them interact with the world shows me the results of the lessons I’ve taught them and the tools I’ve given them.


But as a mother I know I won’t be there for everything, and I shouldn’t be. And while that fact breaks my heart a bit, I understand that there are memories, relationships and stories in their lives that are theirs, and theirs alone.


There is this selflessness to motherhood that allows me to believe that I am theirs, but they are not mine. I’m giving my children what they need to be their own people. And knowing this is the best Mother’s Day gift of all.


This post originally appeared on Today Parenting Team’s blog.