Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Let's Start This Thing Right - Grade 1

Dear Mrs. H.,

Another year has started. I am thrilled Helen will be in your class. You were amazing with Connor. I'll never forget two things about you. First, you have been teaching for many years now, but you bring an energy to the classroom that is hard to miss. Second, you recognized Connor's every change and changed right along with him. Thank you. I realize I'm sending you another child who cannot read, but I know she'll be rocking this by the end of the year, due in large part to that magic you work on a daily basis.

And thank you in advance for every day you come into my child's classroom and insist that she be her best. Thank you for every time you agree to meet with me (trust me, it won't just be at conference time - but you already know this). And mostly, for every time you absolutely insist that every child in your classroom treat you and every other child in that classroom with respect and kindness, thank you. And thank you also for that day when you look up and notice my child for the individual she is. You're helping me raise one of the two people I love most in the world, one of the two people's who success I care about more than any other, and one of the the two people who carry little parts of my heart and soul with them everywhere they go. Take care of her, please, she is my everything. Our hearts bruise more easily than we might let on.

I'm going to give you enough information about Helen that you won't have to bore her by trying to figure this out in the first month of the school year. Efficiency is the name of the game, friend. I'm not giving you a free pass this year, and I expect you not to give Helen a free pass either. We're all going to have to work hard - this is the year it all begins for Helen. Please use your time thoughtfully, I promise to return the favor.

Helen has never sat at a desk for longer than it takes to complete an art project - and typically, she's on the floor when she's working on her art projects at home. It's just more comfortable down there. Plus, if she sits on the floor, both her desk AND chair can serve as horizontal surfaces on which to stash things. Did I mention Helen loves stuff?

This love of stuff is important. You see, Helen's trying to be an inventor - like Violet in the Lemony Snickets books. Just this past summer she created a lifesaving device that can be used on our rafting trips, a chocolate mint cake that is divine (DO NOT EAT! IT CONTAINS MUD!), headbands that she is marketing to other girls with crazy hair, and she crafted a blanket from potholders. If nothing else, that last item shows you her sense of dedication to a project! She is also learned to knit last week and already has about 2 feet of a scarf completed - a scarf that is so precious she plans to gift it to every member of the house. But I already know once it's completed it'll be used for something else entirely.

I know you will notice this immediately when you meet Helen, but she is tiny. Like - off-the-charts, looks like she can't open a door tiny. And when she's a little intimidated, I swear she can become even tinier and someday, you might look around and wonder where the heck she is. If you are like most people, you will be physically drawn to doing things for her. I know this phenomena well - I've lived it. Just ask my older sister who still resents all the reaching and door opening she did for me. But here's the rub. Resist this temptation to do physical things for her. Let her spend the longest minute of your life as she struggles with that door, and eventually figures out how to get enough leverage to open it. Because if you don't, you are selling her short. And that's not helping anybody. She actually can climb from floor to stool to counter to cabinet to get a glass, climb back down, open that refrigerator door that looks so heavy compared to her, fill up the water glass with the pitcher that is entirely too full for a little girl to handle, and deliver a glass of water to each person sitting at the dinner table. This appears hugely inefficient - which I already alluded to not liking, but you know what? She is really proud of the system she devised - by herself. And she needs to know you have confidence in her to perform basic activities as well. Go spend a minute with that kid at the back of the line teaching him about patience, and let her get that door for you. Please be mindful of the long-term. You may only spend a year with her, but if I'm lucky, I'm going to spend a lot more of them with her. She needs to have the confidence it takes to maneuver through this world.

Helen has a terrible sense of direction. And while she has mostly adapted to this, it can make things seem scarier than you might imagine. She comes by this honestly from me and her maternal grandma. Sorry about that. But here's my advice: do not send her on a mission alone unless you are willing to lose her. She's unlikely to break the perimeter, so you have that going for you, but she's also highly unlikely to get from point A to point B in any sort of reasonable manner. We've lived in our home for five years now and still, she must pause to figure out where the front door is and where the back door is. Did I mention the back of our house is mostly windows - so she can SEE the backyard?

Helen cannot stand being unable to do something, and like most kids, she'll feign not being interested. But as soon as she figures it out? She will follow along full tilt. As long as she knows you're not going to give up on her, she won't give up on herself, either.

Look, I know the days can be long. Days with a particularly stubborn little girl can be even longer. Just keep moving. Your smile and calm will get you and Helen through this year.

Call me if you get stuck or think things could be going better. I promise I will be able to figure out what's going on in less than an hour. And if you don't need me, that's fine, too. I'll be the mom in the back of the room putting together Friday folders and sharpening pencils. I loved spending time in your classroom three years ago. I'm going to love it even more this year, I think.


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