“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~James Baldwin
Every day as a teacher (a kindergarten teacher in a fairly unsafe area of Baltimore, to be exact) there are so many things I wish I could tell the parents of my students. While I am teaching, I always think that I know better and wish that I could impart my amazing parental wisdom on the parents of my students. I want to tell them to let their kindergarteners be more autonomous. Don’t walk them to the classroom. Let them put away their own stuff. Don’t hover. Step back. Listen to them, but don’t believe everything they say. Let them be who they are. And many times, if I have a good relationship with them, I do say these things.
But flash forward to today. It is my first day of maternity leave and one of the few chances I have ever had to take my child to school. We live in a “nice” neighborhood. My kids go to “nice” public schools. Nothing at all like where I teach. I feel like I have absolutely nothing to worry about. And yet, when I had to drop my kindergartener off in the carpool line today, and watch him walk the less than 100 feet to the front of the building, blind panic set in. He had to turn a corner where I wouldn’t see him. There are literally 12 teachers at their morning posts. And all I can think is “what if?” What if he trips and no one is there to help him? What if someone in line teases him and he gets sad? What if he gets distracted, doesn’t follow directions, and therefor gets in trouble? It took every ounce of restraint I had not to park the car and walk to the front of the building to check on him…to wait and hold his hand for the two minutes he was going to be in line before entering the school building. To give him one more kiss and hug so he knows someone on this planet thinks he’s amazing.
I went to school for child development. I teach small children how to read and write and complete math problems every day. I try to instill in them a sense of purpose, a sense of kindness, and the ability to stand up for themselves and the things they know to be right. I am with them for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year. And I see how able and capable they are and what wonderful little people and citizens they have become. I let them run and grow and engage without hovering over them all day.
And yet, that is what I do to my own child. I hover. ALL. THE. TIME. Maybe it stems from bad early school experiences for him. Maybe it stems from him being slightly weird or awkward. Maybe it stems from me being slightly weird and awkward as a child or not having very close relationships with my parents. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I am constantly yelling at my husband for hovering and I do the same thing. At the park. At home. In public. I know what I should be doing. I know I should stand back and let him just be “him”. And yet I don’t.
Within the next few days, baby 3 will be joining us. There will be less time and attention for my other little ones and I keep having this panicking feeling that I didn’t teach them enough on how to be independent. On learning to engage with other children. On what to do if someone teases you. On how to stick up for yourself. I worry and worry and worry constantly that I hovered too much and tried to control too much.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to let go…so they can just be.