I’m feeding the kids breakfast before school. It’s the first day and I am excited for them. I remember how I felt on the first day of school when it was my turn to pick out the pencils and notebooks, to fill the new book bag and pick out the first outfit. I loved the start of school. I looked forward to buying school supplies with my mom. School started later in the year for us, after Labor Day, a proper time for school to start rather than the first week of August. The soundtrack of the morning of the first day of school still clearly rings in my ears on fall nights and mornings. It is the sound of the crickets greeting the cooler temperatures and hearing their chirps gives me the impulse to run to the store for glue sticks and safety scissors.
Here I am, the parent this time, feeding my kids fuel that I hope will carry them through the excitement and anxious enthusiasm of their first day.
Today is the first day of third grade for our oldest. I remember that year well. It was the first transition year, the first year when we began to say “goodbye” to childhood so we could become “pre-teens”. I really hate that term but also really appreciate all the meaning it carries. I remember some of the girls being more anxious to mature while I was hoping to hold onto every sliver of childhood, every shred of fanciful moment in the land of imagination. I still much prefer the world of play pretend and love watching my children getting caught up in a land only they can see and open to one another.
“I hope Martha Jane* isn’t in my class again this year.” Our oldest is smiling as she enjoys her eggs but there is a slight glint of unease in her eyes.
“Why?” I ask.
“I don’t really like her. She’s not very nice.”
I know this child. I’ve seen her when I have visited my daughter’s class, been on field trips, and joined my daughter for lunch. I also know her from my own childhood. She is a queen bee in the making.
“I can see that. I don’t think she is in your class, though. I don’t remember seeing her name on the class sheet.”
My oldest continues, “She’s so bossy. One day she only let certain people sit at the table with her and made the rest of us sit on the floor and pick up the trash around her.”
I go through the roof. As I said, I know this girl because I know her type. I survived her type.
My daughter and I have a very serious conversation about not letting anyone put us down and “make” us do anything we don’t want to do or that demeans us.
The conversation goes well and I pray I did my best. I was in the sixth grade when I realized a queen bee only has power if you give it to them. I also realized then that I couldn’t value my own life based on “popularity”.
The beautiful thing in this moment is my daughter. She isn’t that anxious. She isn’t that distressed. The possible presence of this girl is more of an annoyance than a deal breaker. My daughter understands what I tell her and already possesses more confidence than I did at her age. She’s got this and she’s thriving.
Last year she and I talked about queen bees and I told her about my own. For years I shared a class with a girl who wanted so desperately to rule the roost and she did. She had the attitude and swagger, the style and the bravado. I told my daughter about her and about how now I look back and can see the insecurity that was behind all of her bluster and abuse. I see now the pain that was the force that drove her forward.
My oldest picks up the conversation, “All the teachers think she’s so cute and so nice. And she is when they’re looking. They don’t see her being mean to the other kids.”
We talk about how easily people can be fooled and how hard some people work to hide from others.
For my daughter, because of her strength and confidence, this is a normal conversation to have on the first day of school. We are talking through a challenge, if only a slight one, and she knows what to do but it still helps to talk.
She smiles and keeps eating as she turns her attention to her brother and sister.
I look at her and lift a thousand prayers. All of them boil down to this:
“Please let these eggs be enough. Will they be enough? Let this time, this breakfast, our talk, my love, her family be enough to wrap her up and protect her so she can grow and hold onto that confidence.”
I already know the answer. It should be enough but this life is uncertain and nothing is guaranteed. What I do know is that for today, this first day, these eggs will be plenty.
*Martha Jane isn’t the real name of the child in question and I don’t know a Martha Jane. If you happen to be one, my apologies for randomly choosing your name. I’m sure you bear no resemblance to the one in this story.