Today was Grandparents Day at school. Brooks was definitely not short on love today. He was surrounded by his grandparents as he showed off his classroom and talked about what he was thankful for. He was loved well today. And my heart was so full watching the pride he had in this moment.
Just last week, we had parent teacher conferences for Brooks. And in the middle of talking about letters, sounds, colors and numbers. Miss Maggie reminded me of the little boy that started at this little Christian school a year and a half ago. A little three year old. That had never left his momma. Scared and Cautious. A three year old that hurt himself on the wiggly wiggly bridge at preschool orientation. And that wiggly bridge was all it took. He was terrified to ever go back.
“Just look how far he has come.”
Miss Maggie pointed out.
Her comment stuck with me watching him today. I remember that little boy. The one who was overwhelmed by school and the playground bridge.
Dave and I would talk and talk. Do we send him? Do we make him go? Do we just tell him to man up?
And then we decided to prepare him. To give him the tools for success.
It was our first taste of holding these little hands through life. We drove to the school. Sunday afternoon. School started on Monday. We parked outside the big tall chain-link fence. And we talked to Brooks about that big scary playground. Then we took a shot in the dark. We called the school. Maybe someone would answer? Let us in?
And the principal answered.
“Oh hey. Um. This is Dave. Dave Soderberg. My son is uh, starting school. Well, preschool, tomorrow. In Mrs. Herrema’s class. He uh, fell off a bridge on the playground at orientation on Friday. And I was wondering… wondering if there is any way I can just get him on that playground. Teach him how to get accross that bridge. Is there, uh, any way to get on to the playground?”
Dave NEVER sounds flustered. But he did here.
Those questions racing through our heads. Are we doing the right thing here? Is he going to think we are crazy? Those parents? That can’t let go? The ones that cater to their kids every whim?
Our questions were interrupted by…
“Sure. Sounds great. I’ll meet you at the front door.”
Dave walked around the front of the building with my little one and disappeared into the school. I sat in the car with two sleeping babies. And then I watched the three of them appear on the playground.
Brooks timid. Hiding behind his daddy.
Dave. Strong and sure — the man I married. Smiling. Talking to to the principal. Introducing that amazing little boy to his new principal.
And then Dave swooped Brooks up. Set him up on his shoulders. And took off running toward the playground.
His excitement was infectious. And I watched my two boys run around that playground. Dave guiding Brooks. Teaching him where to hold on to get across that wiggly bridge. Guiding his steps with his hands. Teaching him with his words. Showing him the ropes of his new school.
Brooks came running back to the car. Now completely excited for school. A change in heart and spirit. His little heart felt safe and prepared. And Monday morning was met with nothing less. And as he disappeared into his class that very first morning, he whispered in my ear,
“And, Mom. I won’t forget to hold on to the magic spot on the wiggly bridge.”
As experienced humans, It’s so easy for us to prepare our own hearts. We guard our souls, our spirits. We protect our feelings and emotions. We build walls. Defenses against our enemies. We give ourselves pep talks. Mantras to follow. To live by. Scripture to dwell on. Prayer. Meditation. Whatever it is.
We protect our hearts.
Almost instinctually. Unintentionally.
But as parents. We have to protect our little’s hearts. Fiercely. Intentionally. Because they don’t protect themselves from the world the way we adults do. We learned how to prepare our hearts. We learned to turn to each other. We learned to turn to our spouse. To God.
I am just now learning how to prepare and teach these little hearts for this life.
I believe in setting these kids up for success. Sadly, something that a lot of mothers and fathers don’t do enough of. Those extra steps to set these kids up for genuine success. Independent success. The kind of success that they earn all on their own. Sometimes, I helicopter parent these kids. Mostly, I step in too soon to give them that success. I want it so badly for them. Especially Lucas. And then I see it, that look in their blue eyes. That look that tells me that I stole that moment from them. That ownership of success. And so I pull back. Learn to prepare them instead. And give them every single tool they may ever need to build a beautiful life. And I have to let them use those tools. On their own.
I have to let them build their own life. Not a life I built.
And that is hard. Really hard. Especially in the big stuff, like school. It is hard to let them do it on their own. But even in the small stuff. A puzzle piece that Lucas has turned upside-down. I just want to flip it over in his little hand. I want to reach over and place that piece in the missing spot for him. But I don’t. I coach him. I teach him. I remind him of the tools he has in that mythological toolbox of his. And I let him figure it out. And even when he asks for help. I am mindful of what kind of help he needs. And though initially I’d wanted to grab that last piece of the puzzle and put it in the spot for him. I don’t. I guide him in flipping that piece over. I use my words to help him understand lining up the picture. And I set the piece right next to the spot. I let him nudge it in. Let his little fingers feel that piece click into place. Let him own that puzzle. He needs it way more than I do. That puzzle means very little to me. It means a lot to a little boy who just learned how to do puzzles.
And Brooks. He needed that success on the playground. On his own. Because his daddy was not going to be there next time to hold his hands across that bridge. That in itself, is the scariest part of letting go. Knowing we wont be there holding his heart. But his daddy’s words. His daddy’s teachings. His daddy’s confidence in him. That was going with him. And those tools that we just taught him how to use. They gave him exactly what he needed to get across that bridge. And school? Turns out that school is this boy’s heart and soul. He loves it oh so much.
And to think my first instinct was that he wasn’t ready because he didn’t initially want to do it.
I believe in this way of parenting toddlers. I believe in holding their hands through this big scary world. Because by riding that line of holding their hands just enough, you’re able to acknowledge to them that this world is big and scary. But that it only appears that way. And that it’s navigable — and incredibly enjoyable. You first validate their feelings. And then provide every tool imaginable to get through it.
And sure, this writing is probably coming off as a humble brag. But the truth of the matter is that I usually don’t do it right. This is one of the few times I figured out that balance. I usually hold them too tightly. Or, sometimes, I don’t hold them enough. When what my kids really need is something right in the middle. Where I guide them. Set them up for success. And then set them free.
With prepared hearts.