Remember your first day of school – the heart-racing anxiety you felt walking toward that intimidating brick building, the fear of the unknown? That is exactly what I felt as I held my daughter’s hand and walked toward her new preschool.
This was her first structured time with other children and my initiation into the sometimes-rewarding, sometimes-treacherous social beehive of parents. Over the course of the next year, my daughter grew in more ways than I can number. I learned some pretty important lessons, as well. Here are just a few.
1. Remember to share. I’m not just talking about killer cookie recipes and hand-me downs, but also parenting war stories. We all have them. And the more open I am with other parents, the more I realize I am not alone.
2. Use your quiet voice (particularly when you disagree with another parent). It’s OK if you don’t let your children watch SpongeBob, but my family happens to think he is hilarious.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions. You know that mom who seems perfect, the one who wears high heels to the school picnic? Every mother has a story. Each has experienced fatigue and frustration – even the ones who seem like they have it all together.
4. Nobody likes a bragger. In fact, I think it would be very helpful if we all aired our dirty little secrets right off the bat. I’ll go first: I once forgot to brush my daughter’s teeth for four straight days. When my daughter screams at me to stop singing along with her Disney soundtrack, I often comply. Sometimes she will wake up full of ideas: "Mommy, let’s go to the soup place, then the library, and then the park!" And sometimes I indulge her every wish.
5. Don’t be a busybody. I regularly get comments and even questions about my daughter’s short hair. Personally, I think she looks adorable with her pixie haircut – and that is often how I respond. But there is more to the story. My daughter has pediatric acid reflux and has spent a great deal of time in and out of doctor’s offices and the hospital. Shortly after one of her most intensive tests, she began twisting and pulling her hair. It would come out in clumps, leaving bare spots. The quickest way to resolve it was to keep her hair short. Oh, that first cut was tough! Occasionally, I will give the long explanation, which always stops people in their tracks. If you don’t want an uncomfortable answer, don’t ask a nosy question.
6. Try, try again. At her school, my daughter was the child who refused to help pick up the toys. While the other children rushed to be helpful, she would insist on continuing to play. (Mortification, yes. End of the world, no.) So we worked with her at home and her teacher, Mrs. Miles, diligently worked with her at school. Gradually, she improved. Even Mrs. Miles has noted a difference – yeah!
7. Don’t be shy. If you find yourself befriending another parent, ask them out to coffee or have them over for a play date. Chances are they would be thrilled by the invite.
8. You are not perfect. My day of reckoning came one spring afternoon toward the end of the school year. The preschool was having a bike-a-thon. Leah was her normal sunny self through the picnic and bike decorating. Then we headed outside where she refused to put on her bike helmet. Before I knew it, she was screaming at the top her lungs. Of course, I was embarrassed. It is hard not to judge yourself by how your child behaves. It is just a fact that the world will judge you this way. But the truth is, despite how well you parent, every single one of us will face a day of reckoning. You are not perfect and, thank goodness, neither is your child.