Our first in first

To continue, or perhaps conclude, the drama regarding Hailee’s education plan, we decided to move forward with first grade.

IMG_6934We aren’t sure we made the right decision. We aren’t sure there is a right decision. We ultimately decided to move forward with first grade after meeting with someone from our neighborhood who is an education specialist. We told her about Hailee and about our concerns. We talked for an hour. What tipped the scales toward first grade, for me, was this part of the conversation: She asked me, “Have any teachers expressed concern about Hailee moving forward?” I told her no. And she responded, “Then you need to stop treating Hailee like she is a concern.”

Further, while we’ve been making this decision (or avoiding it) I’ve been reading the book, The Conscious Parent. This book really helped me untangle all the pieces of this dilemma that were my own stories and my own needs and really, have nothing to do with Hailee.

“When you parent, it’s crucial that you realize you aren’t raising a ‘mini me,’ but a spirit throbbing with its own signature…Instead of meeting the needs of our children, we tend to project our own ideas and expectations onto them. Even when we have the best intentions…most of us unwittingly fall into the trap of imposing our agenda on them…We each enter the parenting journey with visions of what it will be. For the most part these visions are fantasies. We hold beliefs, values, and assumptions we have never examined…Based on our unexamined worldview, we unknowingly lay down rigid expectations of how our children ought to express themselves…For instance, if we are super-successful at what we do, we are likely to expect our children to be super-successful also…If we were an academic wizard in school, we tend to carry a torch for our children to be brilliant…We want what we consider to be the ‘best’ for our children, but in seeking to bring this about, we can easily forget that the most important issue is their right to be their own person and lead their own life in accord with their unique spirit.” (p. 2-3).

I realized through reading this book that so much of my fears and worries for Hailee are my own stories that I am projecting on her. I recognized that I have an egoistic need for Hailee to excel in school. I want her to be at the top of her class and show promise. I want to be that parent who complains how bored my child is in school because she isn’t being challenged enough. I want her to stand out as a leader. I want her to have confidence and love learning. Those aren’t necessarily bad wishes for Hailee. But they are MY wishes, not hers.

It wasn’t until I began to see this story I was projecting on Hailee that I realized my own history wasn’t full of academic prowess. I certainly didn’t show promise when I was Hailee’s age. I was held back a grade. And when I eventually was put in classes with my same-aged peers (sixth grade), I wasn’t in any advanced classes by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in high school, I didn’t take any AP classes and VERY FEW honors classes. I got good grades but nothing that stood out. In fact I remember failing freshman honors English. I also didn’t do stellar on the ACT. I did “fine.” If my dad hadn’t petitioned the Dean of Admissions at Brigham Young University to let me in, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have been admitted to BYU.

It wasn’t until college that I began to excel academically. It took until college for me to find that side of myself that really, intrinsically, valued learning and thinking. Why am I expecting my 6 year old to do what I only began to do at 18?

“We are inpatient to maximize our children’s potential…When we teach our children that their success in life is dependent on their performance, childhood becomes geared toward the future instead of being experienced simply as childhood…There is little presence, little time to savor the extraordinary in the ordinary…Although it’s natural to want our children to excel, this is preferably never at the expense of failing to revel in their ordinariness. When we deny our children’s ordinariness, we teach them to be enthralled only by the exaggerations of life. They come to believe that only the grand and the fabulous are to be noticed and applauded…In contrast, when our children learn to value the ordinary, they learn to inhabit life itself. They appreciate their body, their mind, the pleasure of sharing a smile, and the privilege of relating to others.” (p. 155-157).

After I recognized this, I realized that one of my desires for putting Hailee in Kindergarten at Challenger would be so she could excel academically. Dropping this fantasy allowed me to warm up to the idea of public school first grade.

In first grade, I anticipate Hailee will be very “ordinary.” And I want to honor that. I want Hailee to have a childhood where she can be whoever she is: learning and growing and maturing at her own pace.

While I have made good movement toward letting go of my egoistic need for Hailee to excel, I still worry about her being behind academically. And she is struggling right now, as she learns to read. She “doesn’t like reading. Not one bit.” It’s like pulling teeth to get her to read each night and often the experience involves whining and tears, on her part, and deep breathing to remain calm, on my part. I want her to have the freedom to learn and grow at her own pace, but yet, the pace of her class and of her peer’s learning is accelerating beyond her.

I know she will learn to read. I know one day it will “click.” But I worry that in the process Hailee, who already struggles with confidence, will become even more insecure and doubt herself and her abilities.

I also worry about Hailee’s ability to make friends. Hailee is young, both in age and maturity. She is very friendly and outgoing, but already this school year she has experienced some social rejection. A boy in her class told her to go to the back of the line because he didn’t want to stand by her. An older girl, who Hailee considered a friend, didn’t let her sit by her on the school bus. And someone called her “Shawn the sheep,” which may or may not have been name-calling but Hailee felt really hurt. Her first grade teacher says that Hailee is quiet in class and that she doesn’t see her really interacting with other kids very much. Hailee has told me she plays alone at recess, but “has fun playing alone.” All of Hailee’s best friends are all together in another class and I worry that Hailee is slowly going to be ostracized, unintentionally, from that group of friends.

It’s hard when you see how amazing your own child is and just want everyone around you to love her as well! I want her to feel accepted, loved, and wanted by her peers. This is where I still have doubts about her being in first grade. She might fit in better with peers in Kindergarten.

I am trying to relinquish my own stories and needs and embrace Hailee, as she is, but the protective mama bear in me is on high alert. I know, being a therapist, as well as carrying my own scars, that social acceptance is vital and rejection can carry life long consequences. Hailee has such a light and I will do everything in my power to keep her little light burning.

While I can’t control Hailee’s environment and I can’t protect her from all of life’s hurts, what I can do is, “mirror [her] inherent wholeness, out of which [she] will manifest who [she] is becoming. By mirroring [her] wholeness, [I] help [her] realize that who [she is] here and now is already [her] greatest achievement.” (p.168).