This one right here. This one with spunky, waterlogged, blond pigtails, wet from swimming, giant blue eyes inherited from her flirty father, and her perfect white chiclet teeth. Yes her. She is headed to kindergarten this fall, following on the short heels of her brother.
She is ready. I am ready. She asked the other day where Mother Nature keeps all of her rain, which led to a discussion about the water cycle and she mentioned how water is a liquid and ice is a solid because “Carver is learning that now in kindergarten, and did you know that, Mom?” Clearly, she is ready. Just as I know this awesome group of seniors I have is also ready for what comes next. They were in kindergarten when I first came to Lin-Wood. They learned to tie their shoes, write stories, read books, multiply, explore science and history, make friends on the playground, and countless other life lessons, while I coached soccer, softball, and adaptive skiing, worked at being a better teacher, fell in love with my husband, had children, and, oh yeah, finished that first novel; I was their after school program person long before I became a parent. Teaching in a school like this one allows us to literally to watch kids grow up before our eyes.
Excuse my random and collective pronoun usage in what follows as I’m trying to keep gender neutral. One of my seniors who shall remain nameless was just in first grade and very upset that their mom was in the hospital. When I asked if she was sick, my little buddy replied in a six year old voice, “She isn’t sick,” and then in a loud whisper, “She has THE HEMORRHOIDS.” I will never forget the voice. The moment. The profound worry that befell those little eyes. Not a mom yet. Not married or even with any intentions of marrying, I wondered about this little brain and how children process worry, fear and uncertainty. My only experience with tiny children had been day camp and babysitting. Those little eyes now belong to a person about to enter college, who is wrapping up their senior year excited about new chapters about to unfold.
What I do know is that in many ways the little guys who enter kindergarten are, at heart, the same 5 and 6 foot somethings who graduate from high school– the favorite babysitters of my own children– the amazing young women I hike, write, and read in the woods with each summer– the boys and girls who still ski, according to Carver, “racer fast” into the finish. And that’s where we are now, just about at that finish line for high school, and they couldn’t be happier.
What I want to tell them about heading off to college isn’t all that different from what I want Greta to know about entering kindergarten. Geoff and I once brainstormed together our Top Ten Advice for College Freshmen, initially told to our goalkeeper Meagan Shamberger before she left for American University and then revised on a cocktail napkin on Martha’s Vineyard for Hannah Drake the summer of 2010. I’ve borrowed and modified for the purpose below:
- Advocate for yourself. Ask for help when you need it. This is a life skill; even the independent “I do- I do” from Greta at age 2 takes a back seat for things like cycling without training wheels or, more recently, shoe tying. In college, they come in the form of friends down the hall, advisors, professors, parents, and friends’ parents.
- Find one friend you connect with. For Carver, it is Taylor Lin, whom he taught all the birds of prey to and got in trouble with last month for, in his words, “coloring too much violence during free play.” His friend Hazel Wilson has also been by his side since birth and keeps a close watch. She loves nature, fashion, and a sense of adventure. Back at Conn College, it was my roommate Emily Joyce on move in day, Jessie Aguiar, my first friend on financial aid like me, and the four boys who lived down the hall, whom I never dated but always trusted, believed in, and laughed with despite my rocky road of transition.
- Eat what is in your own lunch box. Make sure there are some healthy choices. The college equivalent: don’t drink anything out of a recycling bin lined with plastic. Don’t only eat pasta and bagels in the cafeteria. Your body will thank you one day.
- Be your own person, comfortable with differences, accessories, etc. Greta sometimes likes to wear more than one headband because, well, “It looks good, Mom.” The college equivalent: don’t dress up as a sexy kitty at Halloween. This is cliche, overdone, and weak in terms of imagination. The sexy kitty at Halloween is only looking for one thing; do you want to be that girl? Or boy for that matter? And then one day, we receive a text message from a former student now out of college, and traveling in Europe somewhere that reads, “Krill, I’m so sorry. I did it. I am a cat on Halloween, but at least it’s Calvin and Hobbes.” And we laugh because she understands even now all these years later that we wanted her to be safe.
- Use your words. If you don’t agree with the way you are being treated, speak up. You do not have to be friends with everyone. Building friendships and relationships with loved ones takes work, but make sure there is work being done on both sides. Do not ever break up with someone over text messaging or Facebook. This is cowardly.
- Protect yourself. In all the ways that matter most. Refer to number 5.
- Do your best. Try your hardest. That might not be good enough on some days, and you might fail. Not everyone gets a medal, and that is good for you. Try harder. Being first doesn’t actually matter to anyone except maybe to you and your parents. Learning is about the journey, and success happens when you seek real experiences, authentic people, and lessons along the road.
- Try new things, but do not be an idiot. Figure out the calculated risk is the one worth taking. The college equivalent: do not blame alcohol or friends for putting yourself in scary or dangerous situations. Driving drunk is never your only option. You are in charge of you.
- Be flexible. You might not like all of your teachers, and they might not like you. It’s not their job to like you; it’s their job to teach you what you need to know. But respect their experience, as they should respect yours. And if they don’t, refer back to #5 and use your words. They are your best tool in this world.
- Share your toys and remember some will have more than you and some will undoubtedly have less. Our buddy bench at school, built collaboratively by an awesome group of third grade girls and some “big kid” help, reads, “If you can be anything, be nice.” In a world that will be only crazier the older we get, be kind and pay attention to one another; yet do not be a doormat. This is a fine balance.
Before we know it, the little girl headed to kindergarten this fall who lately is more on the offensive and less defensive side of the sibling battlefield will graduate from high school. To the mom (or dad) with THE HEMORRHOIDS, congratulations on getting your kids to this next milestone in life.