It started out really rough. Our daughter did not want to move to a new school and she certainly wasn't all that into it when she first got there. To tell you the truth my wife and I weren't all that thrilled either. We loved her pre-school and Kindergarten experiences at the local Montessori school and we really didn't like the vibe we were getting from the public school administration. In retrospect things have turned out great, but it has been a year filled with tears, learning, growth, tolerance, and new perspectives. Its been hard at times, but I think all of us are stronger and better off because of it.
Some of our own hang ups came well before school started ... the biggest was the outright refusal to really create a peanut free environment. Given Madeline's severe allergies, we hoped the district would cooperate and go nut free -- we felt that since there were lots of other students in the same boat they'd find a way to do it. Not so. We had to come to terms with the fact that she'd have to sit at her own table, wear her allergy emergency kit around her waist, and be subject to different treatment than most of her first grade friends. This was really hard on us -- probably more so as we projected visions of being picked on and looked at as an outcast on her. None of that ever happened. As a matter of fact, several of her friends wanted to get cool hip packs like Madeline had and on most days all of her friends sat with her at the peanut free table. That was a huge relief for us.
The year started so rocky the we spent the first few months looking hard at alternatives -- none of it felt right. We toiled over keeping her in the public school, but ultimately decided that moving her to private meant paying lots of money and knowing that she'd eventually have to work her way back. The structure was a shock and the rules angered both Madeline and my wife and I. We felt at times she was singled out because of her free spirit and that she was being "put in line" to act like the other kids. It bothered her. We spent lots of mornings those first few months dealing with tears about going to school. That was difficult as we saw this little girl who just months before would spring out of bed for school in the morning do everything in her power to not have to go. I can understand feeling that way in high school, but first grade is still about wonder and magic. It took until after the winter break for it to turn around, but it did. She started to love school again. That made us very happy.
Even with her growing into it all I was still very concerned with the overall impression I got of the work she was doing. I was writing about it quite a bit this past year and have even used lots of what I was thinking about to fuel many of my more recent talks. I watched my refrigerator go from a full on spectrum of color and creativity to a black and white dumping ground of xeroxed curricular projects. I coined the term "Worksheet Nation" to help describe what I saw happening before my eyes and I was pissed by the State's proud display of the Adequate Progress my daughter's intellectual participation was adding up to. I spent a lot time just complaining about all of it. Then we started to do some different things at home -- we started an ePortfolio together and even though we haven't posted as much as I'd like it still exists. We encouraged her to stretch her reading more, we talked quite a bit more about how she was feeling about what she was learning, and we asked her to reflect on what she was doing. It helped. And I think it helped me a lot.
I needed to grow up about all of it more than she did.
I've watched my little girl walk into her first grade year terrified and emerge as an even more powerful and confident little girl. She's grown so much this year -- and in ways I didn't expect. She taught my wife and I some really valuable parenting lessons about allowing her to be herself, to back off, and to not project our negative impressions of things onto her life. We know she is a sensitive and wonderful little girl who found ways to make all new friends, survive a new environment, and win the heart of a teacher she was initially unsure about. In the end I am so proud of her and I can't believe I just watched her run up the walk as fast as she could to go to her last day of first grade. As we drove up this morning I asked her about first grade and she closed with scream of, "I loved it!" I'm so happy I caught that on audio ... if you want, you can listen to the short Maddiecast of Madeline's Last Day of First Grade. I'll want to be able to revisit this and how it all worked out many times in the future. Thanks for indulging me with this post.