We can’t protect our kids from the world (or, in this case, being seven). You know this. I know this. I may want to be in denial about this, and yet.
I got a call from the assistant principal of Saoirse’s school (the school that we love, so anything that follows is not a judgment or statement. This is just a story) a couple of weeks ago. As a mom, my heart raced until the principal said–immediately, bless her mama-principal heart–that there was no emergency. Then, as a former goody-goody who may have gone all 12 years of elementary and secondary schools without getting detention (I made up for it in college, don’t mind me), my heart kept racing, because: THE ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL WAS CALLING MY HOUSE. Former stick-to-the-rules goody-goodies don’t get calls from assistant principals. Not really our thing.
It turns out that Saoirse and another girl, her good friend, were playing a game at recess, running quickly, and ran into another little boy hard enough that he fell into the bleachers of the gym and got a nasty cut. This boy didn’t see the hit coming, thought maybe somebody pushed him, and all kiddos involved were brought down to the office by a teacher to sort it out. None of these kids did anything wrong, which we figured. And the principal did the right thing by talking with them calmly, making sure no bullying was happening, and letting us know about it afterward. The girls apologized to the boy for running into him. It wasn’t that big of a deal beyond that, really. The big deal for SK, though, would be that she had to make that walk to the principal’s office. She didn’t come by that first-born people-pleasing thing dishonestly.
We talked about it, she and I, after that phone call. She hadn’t come to me to talk about it on her own, which bugged me, and made me suspicious. So I didn’t tell her what I knew, and waited for her to recount her side of the story (it matched the assistant principal’s understanding. Goody-goody status INTACT). My first-born hadn’t wanted to get in trouble, and even more so, was mortified by the situation. I didn’t know this. So I definitely put my kid on the stand that afternoon. And she definitely started shaking when she told me that she hadn’t said anything to me because she was embarrassed. She didn’t want anybody to know. She didn’t want anyone to know that she got into trouble.
Life went on the rest of the day, and the day after that. My happy, well-behaved-at-school-despite-being-a-bit-mouthy-at-home girl did what any American seven-year-old does: she learned her vocabulary. Took her math test. Argued with her sister and played with her sister and giggled with her brother and ran around a soccer field.
Me? I may have teared up a bit. Just…Saoirse is growing up. She’s going to get her feelings hurt. She may hurt somebody else’s feelings. I can’t control any of it. i just have to watch. That part is painful.
We were driving home from school one day that week, Saoirse buckled in, sitting on her booster seat that seems too small for her but can’t be too small because she’s only seven. She looked out the window for a bit before she spoke.
“Mom?” she said. “You know the other day, when I had to go to Mrs. E’s office? I went into the bathroom and cried after that.”
There was a pause.
“It was the first time I cried at school.”
It’s so little, in the scheme of things. A kiddo got hurt. The other kiddos were brought in for questioning, as one does with kiddos. It’s just…this is the beginning. So begins the years of worry, and wondering when to trust them, and when to doubt them, and when to know that they’re really being good kids, and when to be concerned that maybe they’re not, and when to just do the best possible job we can as parents and pray that the bird we send out of the nest isn’t going to be the one in the flock squawking and pecking at all the others.
At my last teaching position before Saoirse was born, my students were all tenth graders. I remember talking with one girl who came into class each morning reeking of cigarette smoke. She swore up and down that she didn’t smoke–her mom did in the car as they drove to school each day, she said. She wasn’t smoking on campus, she insisted. It was just the smell. She had no control over it. And her head was hanging down. I wanted to believe her–I’m still not sure if I did–and besides, I couldn’t do anything about it, anyway. We want to believe that they’re all good–especially our own kids–but we want to be on alert, not caught unaware.
Twelve years of elementary and secondary school is a long time to trust and test, hope and get disappointed. SK right now is the “good” kid–one who breaks into private tears when she gets into trouble even though she didn’t get into trouble. I don’t want her to get hurt. I don’t want her to do any hurting. But. I have no control.
This first-born mom is going to have a hard time with that, I’m afraid. The first-grader who accidentally bumped a kid into the bleachers might become the same person insisting the cigarette smell isn’t hers. There’s no way to know the right answer. I just hope I learn when to trust it if it comes.