Category Archives: Parents

Loves (lost) by six

Poetry_Friday_Button_2-210 REDUCED    After so many nights of being in the front of the classroom on such occasions, one September eve, there we were sitting on the other side of the desk, engaging in our first ever back-to-school night—not as teachers, but as parents.

When it came our turn to for a quick one-on-one meet-and-greet with our daughter’s kindergarten teacher, we looked forward to hearing some positive words about our little cherub– as had all the parents whom we had met in similar situations in our teacher-roles, no doubt.

After a complimentary introduction, the veteran kindergarten teacher confided that there was one disciplinary concern she intended remedying. In preparation for the intervention, she forewarned that we should not be surprised to learn from our daughter that her table-seat had been changed.

Apparently our daughter was engaged in a kindergarten romance with the boy assigned to sit next to her at one of the classroom’s four tables. The teacher knew this was true because every time she turned to write on the board (There were chalkboards then.), our daughter and her little beau took the chance to smooch. They also took every opportunity to surreptitiously hold hands under the table.

“I thought by now their romance-novelty might have worn off,” the teacher explained. “It hasn’t. Unfortunately, I cannot let it continue. Their kissing has become a source of giggling for the other children. And their holding hands is distracting to themselves. It’s for the best I separate them. I hope you understand. It’s not a punishment, as such.”

Yes. We understood. The children were in school to learn many things—how to have a clandestine kindergarten romance at their table was not one of them.

Happy to say, our daughter took the classroom separation well. Her kindergarten playtime “romance” with the son of our best friends continued—supervised–outside school.

Then came first grade, and the sorrowful day our daughter announced that the romance was over—not by her choice. Her beau had found another girl who captured his heart.

Yes! She had tried to fight for the boy she loved, but without success.

And so she concluded her announcement, with these words spoken as much, I thought, to assuage her broken heart, as to inform us of her reconciliation to the “break-up.”

“No matter what, I always have the memory of our love.”

What????…  Is this our six year old daughter talking? Has she been reading Tennyson’s In Memoriam:27…?

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Four years after our first back-to-school night, when our son was in kindergarten, it wasn’t the teacher who called our attention to his romantic interests. No; it was the parents of the object of his affections.

No. They did not appreciate the bubble-gum machine toy ring he had offered their daughter. No. They did not want their daughter considering marrying him: yes, no, or maybe. In fact, they would appreciate our son having nothing more to do with their daughter than was absolutely necessary in school.

What???? ….If the girl’s parents’ concerns were rational, then, apparently, there was something wrong with our reactions when our son shared with us his intentions. We admired that our son had used his accumulated change to get a ring, and applauded his ingenuity to print—all on his own, which pleasantly surprised us—a “Dear So-and-So. Will you marry me?” The question was followed, below, by 3 vertical boxes, marked “Yes,” “ No,” and “Maybe.” (Couldn’t her parents at least have given him credit for making her responding to his question easy?)

And who was this beauty who captivated his young heart? A tomboy, whose appeal, according to the reasons he gave for what attracted him included how fast she ran—even faster than he did, how hard she kicked a soccer ball, how really far she batted a baseball, how accurately she could throw a ball, and–most importantly!—how she always wore a baseball cap—backwards.

His love for her, and the idea that they should marry, had been sealed, I supposed, when they served as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus in the kindergarten December assembly.

Of course, we kept our “What????” thoughts to ourselves, instructing our son to keep his distance, out of school, from his best buddy. Never again was he to offer her a ring. He promised, content they still would play in gym, confident that she would continue wearing a baseball cap.

When I thought about the list of how-many reasons he gave for wanting to marry his athlete-buddy, a list that he had rattled off for loving her, I thought of Browning’s 43rd Sonnet:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

That’s it. Both our children had loved and lost (?) early in their schooling. Happily, both have gone on to find enduring loves, consecrated many years ago in marriage. And while I don’t know if either of our children ever give their first loves so much as a passing thought, I know every once in a while, I do. Proud, without apologies, that both of them were capable, willing, and so inclined to love and lose, even at their young age—just six.

Interestingly, our son grew up to be a sales and marketing director. His kindergarten penchant for premiums, survey-options, and choices, in business and in love, I’m sure, has served him well.

Our daughter? The child with the Tennyson philosopher-at-love heart? She grew up to teach speech, drama, film and literature. Roman Holiday is one of her favorite films to share with her students.

…I guess I’m not surprised how both our children turned out! …Are you?

In that regard, the seventh line of another poem comes to mind, a line, which, as a teacher, as well as a parent, I’ve often reflected on. …Normally, the masculine references in poetry and prose bother me not, but I admit that when reading these words in reference to our daughter, I would exchange “wo(man)” for “man,” and interchange a mother-alternate seventh line version.  I hope Mr. Wordsworth would not feel offended.

My heart leaps up when I behold
          A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
         Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

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not either/or, but: and/both

Remember the first book you checked out from the public library?

I do! I was in kindergarten. It was a Babar book—which title, I don’t recall; I wish I did!

What I do recall is that the font of that book simulated handwriting. And although I couldn’t read many words in any font, much less in script, I still remember how proud I felt walking down the library steps clutching that book, feeling very grownup.

More than the joy I felt carrying that book, I remember how grateful to my father I felt. And although I recall only one or so more times that he drove me to the library, that first time was memorable enough for an entire lifetime. I loved books, and I loved him for gifting me with choosing from a library-full of them!

(Ironically, when I was in high school, instead of walking home from the bus stop on cold and rainy days I waited—at the branch library!–for my father to stop as drove past the library on his way home from work.)

All of this reminiscence is to say that September is Library Card Sign-up Month, and I’d like to send a message to teachers and school librarians: please encourage parents to frequent the public library with their children. Not only so that the children can borrow books, but so that the children can associate reading with their parents’ love.

To parents, I implore: please, if at all possible, bring your children to the public library. Your children will associate your love for them with love of reading. Transferring the feeling of being loved to the love of reading is the best foundation you can give your children for a lifetime of learning.

To everyone I say: taking children to the public library isn’t an admission or intimation that the school library is inadequate. No. Each library has its role and purpose in a child’s education. Going to the public library with one’s parents is a different kind of experience from going to the school library with one’s teacher.  It’s not a matter of school or/instead of the public library, but the school and the public library.

No matter how many different sorts of cards a grownup carries in a purse or wallet, none provides as many endless possibilities for parent-child bonding and a lifetime of shared and independent learning as does a public library card. If you don’t have one, please!, now is the time to get one!

And whether you are a school or public librarian, parent of school-aged children, or teachers and administrators, why not ask and arrange for a public librarian to have a library card sign-up table in full sight at each back-to-school night, as a gift to the children and a courtesy for their parents?

p.s. When I think about the timing of my first public library visit with my father, I’m thinking that it was September, and my kindergarten teacher likely recommended the visit. ..Oh, and did I mention? …When I grew up, I became a school librarian.

Do you have favorite library visit memories, either as a child yourself, or as an adult, with children?

Owen & the Busybody Neighbor

Guaranteed, in more than one school across America, librarians will be introducing a new group of students to Owen, the endearing main character in a Caldecott Honor book by the same name, authored and illustrated by the popular and prolific Kevin Henkes.

Students easily identify with Owen, who finds it rough to leave home, as he starts kindergarten, without his favorite security blanket (literally) to hold onto.

In the end, a compromise between Owen and his parents leads to an ingenious solution that delights students, rooting, of course, that Owen gets to keep and take his blanket with him.

As a former kindergartner, and now an adult reader and mother, the character who most catches my attention every time I read this book to students is the busybody neighbor.

“Mind your own business,” I want to tell her. “He’s not your child. Don’t voice any judgments.”

It is in part succumbing to the neighbor’s insinuations into their business that Owen’s parents take action. Every story, I know, needs an antagonist, an archenemy, a villain, and I guess it is better to cast a neighbor, rather than the parents, into that role.

Still, it bothers me. Makes me think, too, in these days when school is about to begin (or has already begun) that often parents push their children because of “family pride” social standing concerns or social pressure from other adults.

Even if Owen’s parents intended to take action apart from the neighbor’s criticism, I wish they would have stood up for their boy.

I remember once, when I was Owen’s age, being outdoors in the neighborhood with my mother when, by chance, we encountered an acquaintance of hers–a woman, her age, that I had never seen before.

Talking to my mother as if I weren’t there (maybe that was the start of my often feeling invisible), the acquaintance said, “How’s your Nervous Nellie daughter?”

An only child, I knew there was no one else the acquaintance could have been referring to—not unless my mother had another child she had kept secret.

Although I never heard of “Nervous Nellie,” I knew what nervous meant. I knew that description fit me—and now I had a name to describe me: Nervous Nellie.

Yes. I was a very anxious child—and still am a very anxious adult. (Unlike Owen, I never carried around a security blanket; maybe that’s part of my problem.)

I don’t ever remember seeing that acquaintance of my mother’s again. No matter, I didn’t need to. Even now, decades later, I see her face. I hear her voice. “How’s your Nervous Nellie daughter?”

Stand up to the neighbors. Tell them nicely, but definitively, what you tell your children, “If you don’t have anything nice to say (charitable, constructive intervention, excluded), don’t say anything at all”—especially not in the children’s earshot.

The teacher, mother, and child in me thank you!  …Go, Owen!