Suggestions from my 15 years in elementary school
Elementary school is a lot like going down the Raging River Ride at Schlitterbahn Water Park. While holding an inner tube, you and your child climb the stairs of the entry tower to launch into the headwaters with a confused mass of strangers. You push each other along to get started. Tip-overs, tears and unexpected separations occur but it all works out and everyone is back in their tubes smiling. There are lifeguards along the way.
Small talk begins with those around you and in an instant a floating community is created. You feel more relaxed. By the middle of the ride you hit a slow patch and stop paying attention. Then, without notice, things pick-up again and you have to hold on tight. It’s one of the longest rides at the park but you’re still surprised when you reach the end with a sudden splash down. Your turn is over … that is unless you have another child, and then you pick up your tube and get back in line again.
Below is my list of ten things that I wish someone had told me on the way up the tower the first time.
1) Lurking somewhere among the teary-eyed group of parents standing in the hall on the first day of kindergarten are your best friends that you haven’t met yet. You will raise your children with these people and love them with a gratitude that you don’t understand now. It’s commonplace to say that it takes a village to raise a child, but elementary school is about as close to a village as most of us get.
2) You will serendipitously encounter teachers whose particular superpower matches your child’s moment of crisis. The teacher will not wear a cape so be on the lookout for remarkable progress in your child, emotionally or academically, that you know in your heart didn’t have anything to do with you.
3) Get out of your helicopter – parenting is best done on the ground with a little distance. Let your kids wander and make mistakes. Be an advocate for your child, when necessary, and bring solutions to the table not anger.
4) Unless you have a mutant parenting gene, science fair projects will bring you to your knees. Both you and your child will cry. This is normal.
5) We are all visitors passing through. I’ve watched people move on from our small elementary school whose absence I thought would bring doom. Instead, new faces replace the old, the culture evolves and the school continues to hum along. With that in mind, have good guest behavior – help out, be curious, listen, and work to make things better for everyone. Enjoy your stay. It will end.
6) The teachers, principals and support staff won’t tell you that they are running at 150%, neither will the parent volunteers who fill in the gaps. Kindness and appreciation go a long way. Remember to say “thank you” to the people who teach, nurture, feed, and clean up after your kids. Volunteer or donate when you can, every little bit helps.
7) Watching your child and their friends grow from kindergarteners to pre-teens is a privilege. You will come to understand the softening eyes of every old person who says that they remember you when you were young. Pay attention and take a lot of pictures.
8) Be mindful of the sweetness – the handholding and toothless beaming grins – it won’t last forever. You too will become an embarrassment to your child and be replaced by texts, over-scheduling, clubs, sports, and friends. Now are the years to chaperone field trips and go to school plays, learning celebrations and festivals.
9) Don’t save every piece of paper that your child touches. Keep a few choice pictures and projects from each year. Your college-aged kid only wants a couple of pieces of elementary school memorabilia and the emotional hurdle of getting rid of the rest is a mighty high bar to get over. Save yourself the anguish. Trust me on this – I kept my children’s first bandaids.
10) Raising children makes you vulnerable and you will experience emotions that you didn’t know were in your range. Don’t be scared, you are actually getting stronger and more resilient. You will earn a tougher skin and a bigger heart. Be open to all that you can learn from the people around you. Your child isn’t the only one growing up.
After four kids and fifteen consecutive years as an elementary school parent, I’m in the holding tight part of my LAST ride down the Raging River. The splashdown will officially occur on June 5th, at my daughter’s sixth grade graduation. I’m telling myself that I’m ready to move on; but I know that when my turn is really over, I’ll be a blubbering wreck as I lay my tube down and shuffle off in a new direction toward a different ride.