Next week, you’re going to kindergarten.
There’s a big part of me that is ready to throw a party because I’m so excited for you (okay, mostly me). I’m 95% screaming, “POP THE CORK!” and 5% reeling you back into my arms, whispering, “Never mind baby. Just stay right here.”
I keep wondering, “Have I done enough? Are you prepared?” And I don’t mean do you know all your letters and sounds. I mean is it safe for me to send you out into this world? Your skin is not always thick. Your will is not always strong. You are sensitive and kind. You are perceptive and timid. You are five.
I mull over these questions as I reminisce about my own kindergarten experience twenty-five years ago.
I remember one little boy climbing the back fence of the playground during recess because his house was on the other side. My (8-month-pregnant) teacher didn’t realize he was missing until we were back in the classroom and a legit search party commenced to find the kid. Turns out he was watching TV on his couch.
This was the same little boy who tried to kiss girls when the lights were out during movies.
And I can’t help but think, I am releasing you, my firstborn, my innocent, scrawny little one out into the wild. Out into a world of sneak-attack-kissers.
But I also remember a little girl that year. She always wore t-shirts a couple sizes too big and pants a couple inches too short. Her hair was never topped with a bow, nor brushed, rarely even washed.
The first time I saw her my best friend and I were playing on the playground after school. We were there because my mom was working in her classroom. She was there because she hadn’t been picked up yet. She wasn’t necessarily mean, just rough around the edges, a strong little girl who clearly knew how to fend for herself and take what she wanted.
The way she spoke intrigued me. I didn’t understand a few words she used but knew I probably shouldn’t repeat them. She just dropped them casually into her sentences, not in a hateful way, but in a way that indicated they were a comfortable part of her everyday. I sensed her longing for friendship even then, even in my baby soul.
But my friend told me we would get in trouble for playing with her. She said she was “bad” and that we were breaking all the rules by even talking to her. She told me she was going inside and that she would “tell” if I didn’t go with her.
She was a year older, so I figured she knew. And I left.
The next several months, I would see that little girl every now and then, in the hallway or the cafeteria, usually sitting by herself. I would wave at her and smile but figured that was all I could do. She was a kind of different that was apparently beyond my neat and tidy borders, so I kept a safe distance. I didn’t want to get in trouble.
Daughter, before you go to kindergarten, before you meet dozens of five-year-olds who talk, walk, act and look differently than you, I need to make one thing clear. You will never, ever get in trouble for being kind. I will never be upset with you for loving another, no matter what they look like, what words they use, what color they are or what kind of clothes they wear.
Of course I want you to be safe. I want to cover you in all sorts of tracking devices, chastity belts, and body armor. I want to give your teacher an exhaustive list of all your quirks and sit next to you everyday at lunch to make sure you eat enough. If it weren’t super weird, I’d consider holding your hand every day at school this year, even though I’ve student-taught kindergarten before and liken it to an extra fresh hell.
But I don’t want to ever give you the impression that life is something to fear, that humanity is something to fear. For the most part, everyone just wants to be loved.
Especially the ones who are hard to love.
That kid who keeps making fart noises and laughing hysterically? Love him.
That kid who went to the principal’s office for cutting another kid’s hair? Love her.
That kid who doesn’t know how to count to ten? Love her too.
That kid who peed all over the bathroom wall? Yep, even him.
That kid who cussed out the teacher? Absolutely. She needs your love so desperately.
Because here’s the thing. You might be just what they need.
I know, because I’ve been loved by you. And you were what I needed. I know what it is to be changed by you, to have my insides reconfigure because of your kindness. You’ve got it in you, this ability to infuse those around you with goodness. You can do that.
So do that. For everyone. This year and all the years after. I promise I won’t be mad. In fact, there’s nothing you could do that would make me more proud.
I love you fiercely and unconditionally, forever and ever.