This Just In: 3 Out of 5 Children Are Excited to Be Back at School

We’ve been back to school for two days, and we’re sort of drowning here. I mean, we’re not drowning drowning. Not like oh my gosh, we have a NEW BABY drowning. Just a little bit of back-to-school drowning. A little splashing around. A little gasping for breath. A little leg cramping and flailing and maybe-we-shouldn’t-have-gone-so-far-from-shoring. Minor drowning, you know? Like I need a lift back to the shore and a firm pat on the back and maybe a tiny bit of mouth-to-mouth from a hot lifeguard while I lie on the beach trying not to vomit.

I can tell you this for sure because I have my very own pool from which to draw accurate statistics: 3 out of 5 children are excited to be back at school this year.

Three out of five are eager.

Three out of five are happy.

Three out of five talk a mile a minute when they come home and set their alarms for EARLY because tomorrow can’t come too soon.

2 out of 5, though? Not so much. 

Two out of five hate this

Two out of five have been crying.

Two out of five are shaky and jittery and have an involuntary wrinkle between their eyebrows from feeling afraid.

And you’d think we’d be used to this.

You’d think we’d know it will pass.

You’d think.

But you’d be wrong.

Because even though we had 3 kids at 3 new schools last year, and 3 kids at 2 new schools the year before, and more kids at more new schools for infinity before that, this whole Stressed Out Children Attending New Schools thing just bites. 

Dear Internets,

What do you do in that time before your children make friends? When they’re sure they’ll never make them? And they know they’ll wander the halls, lost and alone forever?

Which is how all of us feel when we’re lonely. Like there’s no escape and we’re surely doomed.

‘Cause I’ve tried saying All the Hopeful Things to my kids over the years – all the Rah! Rah! Cheerleader Stuff – and I’ve tried Doing Things, too, and I still haven’t hit on a single thing that works. I’m starting to think that Saying the Words and Doing the Things doesn’t help as much as Being There to Listen, and Waiting in Their Sadness With Them, and Asking What They Need From Me. Which just SUCKS, you know? Like there’s no magic wand out there, and like I can’t force happiness upon them.

So what am I missing, Internets? What’s the magic thing to say or DO?

Please write back soon.

Love,
Me

I woke up late this morning. On my stomach. Face buried in pillow. Pillow with a tiny bit of adorable drool. Mine, though, so that was nice. And Greg asked if I was OK. 

“I’m fine,” I said, and, “I’ll be up in a minute.” Which we both knew was a lie and came out more muffled like, “Uhb eye. Ah be uh-i-na mihna.” I went back to sleep for 15 because I knew – I KNEW – as soon as I got up I’d have to deal. Deal with the children and their feelings and my feelings and ALL THE FEELINGS.

I don’t like feelings. Except when I eat them because then they taste delicious like cinnamon toast and potato chips and chocolate chip cookiesBut I’m trying not to eat my feelings right now, so instead they just taste like afraid and sad and helpless and overwhelmed.

Pffttt.

I tried being the Cheerleader all day today as the texts rolled in from one of the Wrinkled Brow kids. “It’ll be OK eventually,” I wrote, and, “Give it some time.” 

Look at me! FIXING things!

I pulled the I’m Older and Wiser Card next with, “I’ve been there, and even though you think I don’t understand what you’re going through, I do understand it. I do.

BRILLIANT!

I even donned the Authority Mantle: “You have to do this. You have to keep going until December. I don’t even want to consider anything else before you’ve really tried.”

BOOM! If that’s not encouragement, I don’t know what is!

But my kids, oddly, were less than enthusiastic at my fixing and my awesome parenting, and instead of snapping out of their fear and loneliness, they became more withdrawn and less interested in talking to me about how it was going.

It really bites when Being In Control isn’t compatible with We’re All on the Same Team. Just once I want those things to go together.

But today wasn’t that day, so I backed up and said, “I’m sorry; I’m trying to help, and I’m getting it wrong,” and, “I’m sad for you,” and, “I’m here for you,” and, “Let me know if there’s any way I can help.” 

Instead of solving anything, I spent the evening french braiding hair and sitting in bed with my kid and talking about what’s for dinner this week.

I said, in the end, lots of “I don’t knows” and “I love yous” and “We’re in this togethers.”

So, for tonight, 3 out of 5 children are excited to be back at school. And 2 out of 5 aren’t. And I don’t know how tomorrow will go, but I suspect I’ll try to fix less and be present more. Unless one of you can find that damn wand.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
30 comments
  1. So far, I’ve got 1 )1st grade) who is really enthusiastic, 2 (2nd and 10th grade) who are -meh-it’s-okay-I-guess, 1 (4th grade) who I think is doing okay but who cries after school because her two best friends are in (gasp!) OTHER CLASSES THIS YEAR AND I ONLY GET TO SEE THEM AT LUNCH AND RECESS, 1 brand-spanking-new kindergartener who is unexplainably hungry as soon as we get to school and must sit on the bench in the foyer to eat his snack before going into class and then must hear every word of the book he chooses from my mouth before he can even *think* of sitting on his piece of masking tape on the carpet…. and then there’s my oldest, who I am driving off to the other side of the state to college in a mere two weeks (Sob!) Thank you for your words, Beth, and your heart. You are my kind of people.

  2. This… http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/jenny-rosenstrach-essay-00100000130186/
    Exactly this. All you can do – ALL you can do, is make mashed potatoes – or their equivalent. Prayers your way.

  3. I was picked on at school during the last year of elementary school, and in middle school. During the last half of sixth grade (last elementary year in Finland) I basically had no friends. In middle school I had a small group of four friends, and some others I talked to, but none in my class.

    I really can’t say afterward what might have made things different. This isn’t going to sound encouraging, but I don’t know if there’s anything my parents could have done; I certainly don’t blame them for anything. I probably would have resented platitudes, but rather I liked that at home I could forget about how school was, not to talk about it all the time, and focus on the good things at home. I’m just sharing what it felt like for me, not what I think works for everyone.

    There’s one thing I think saved me when school was the worst: my hobby. I did horseback riding once a week, but on maybe four or five days besides that during the week, I went to the stables to help out. It meant the world to me to feel needed there, and to be able to help smaller children. It didn’t make school feel any better, but it gave me a sense of worth.

    Another thing comes to mind… In my third year of middle school (when I had the small group of friends) I noticed a girl who stood alone during every single recess. One day I did what I still think was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done, and went and talked to her, and she started hanging out with our group. But on that first day she asked me why I came to talk to her. I was too nervous to say and I just shrugged, but what I wanted to say was that I’d been that kid who was alone during every recess, and it would have meant a lot to me if someone had come and talked to me. So, it might not work for every kid or at every school, (eg. my elementary school was so small I already knew almost everyone) but you might ask them if they’ve seen someone else who looks lonely. That it might mean so much to that lonely kid if someone went and talked to them. (Of course, if they really are the only lonely kid, it might make them feel worse. Gah, I don’t know, but that’s my two cents.)

  4. Ugh, I hate it for your two who’re having troubles. I did 12 schools in 12 years – always the new kid. So I’ve been there too and it just sucks. I’m dreading it as a parent, but I’m sure the time will come when my littles are bigger. In 12 schools, the best thing that ever happened on the new-kid-feels-lonely-and-hates-her-life front: A teacher. My 10th grade biology teacher stopped me in the hallway during the second or third week of school, and asked me how I was doing. I lied, and then he told me I was required to attend his extra-curricular science fair group. I did, and it turns out he invited a dozen or so lonely freaks and geeks to his class to do fun science stuff. I blossomed, made friends, became a science kid and ended up doing national science fairs. He absolutely changed my life. So. I’m sure you’ve connected with the kids’ teachers – they really can make the difference between months of languishing and finding ways to make your babies feel like they are starting to fit. Hang in there; they’ve got a mom who really is rooting for them and feeling for them, and that’s more than half the battle.

  5. Beth,
    I don’t know if this will help. But I remember as an RA my second year of college, I had a student who was terribly homesick, everyone and everything was new to her… I was so sure she was going to drop out. So mostly I got her to talk about the people and the things she missed, I know it seems like a sad approach, but it helped her see to what were the things in life that made her happy. It helped her to trust those feelings to me, I was safe, like you Beth. I think once she got those feelings out, she had room to try, and explore, and see the situation around her for what it was. Slowly, she made friends, and by the end of the year she was really happy to have stayed.
    As a child who has moved around a lot, I rememberd how bad it sucks, but I also appreciate my ability to be sad, and scared, and take a deep breath, and keep trying anyways. Listening, and if they problem solve or strategies encourage them… and if you see a club they might like, see if you can bring them,… but listen to them be sad, and be sad with them…it really does help! And it really does suck that you can’t fix it for them. Many many hugs! You rock!

  6. I think you are an amazing mom! Kids need an ear to listen to them and a soft place to land. And lots of hugs and cuddles in between.

    Hoping it becomes five out of five very soon!

  7. My mom always said, “I’m sorry. I can’t fix it. I wish I could. I love you” I always HATED it when she said that. And loved her so much for listening and being there. I’m not going to tell you to say that to your kids. But I will say to you:
    That sucks. I’m sorry. I can’t fix it. I wish I could. Hang in there!

  8. Having a special needs 3rd grader who has been in a different school every September since leaving preschool I so get the desire to fix it to make everything okay but as far as I can tell there is no magic wand. I can tell you to listen very, very carefully without judging what they are saying and find that speck of positive that they slip in and focus on that rather than the ton of negative that is pouring out.

  9. I’m sorry, that sucks.

  10. Beth, amazing post – you voiced my feelings in a way thtat made them clearer to me.
    Unfortunately, fixing things and platitudes seem to make my daughter super angry (4th grade) although my kindergartner still thinks I have the power to fix so I better figure it out if he’s having trouble.
    One thing that does actually help my daughter is having lunch or a quick meeting with the guidance counselor. She started a new school last year and has generalized anxiety disorder. We met with the counselor the week before school and set up a weekly lunch date for them until she didn’t need it anymore. After several weeks she stopped going and only stopped in when she had a specific problem. We were fortunate that this schools’ counselor is amazing (last school, she was completely useless). Anyhow, being able to decompress midday really helps and avoiding the socially charged lunch room once a week was a reprieve as well. Also advice from the counselor is usually good and my daughter actually likes hearing it. Mostly though it’s just nice to have a non-judgemental quiet place to sit for 20 minutes that really helped.
    The only thing I’ve found that I can do is give her a positive, relaxed, happy morning (easier said than done with anxious children) and remind her that no matter how the day goes their safe haven is here waiting for them when it’s over.

  11. My heart breaks when my children cry. After all the cheerleading and all the reminding and all the positive thoughts, I always turn back to “this sucks. I’m so sorry.” Sometimes I think that’s the best we can do.

  12. It’s the worst thing ever when you know that your children are unhappy.I always tell mine that as long as they have a safe,warm home that is filled with people who love them,that it will be okay.My daughter has dyslexia….before it was confirmed she went from an outgoing,happy child who loved school to a withdrawn,unhappy child who hated going to school.It was absolutely heartbreaking but I would tell her that if she ever needed me to tell teacher and I would be there in five minutes….THANK GOD the school never called because I don’t know what I would have done but knowing that I was only a phonecall away gave her great security and peace of mind.They will settle in Beth,hang in there

  13. I love this one, Beth.

    Because it is exactly like this. We do the cheering-up part and the I´m-in-charge-part and finally the I-feel-helpless-as-well-part and still they are on their own. On their way to school, in class, in the cafeteria, during sport lessons. (worst situation, right? you feel naked anyway and then you have to change clothes in front of all of them and maybe you are not the most sportif kind of kid and *aaaarrrgghhhh life can be soooo bad)And the evenings together and the comforting and the e v e r y t h i n g we give (which is never enough because it doesn`t solve the problem)is only a moment for them to breathe and to relax so that they can face another day. Until it gets better. But it is oh so hard.

  14. Sometimes it doesn’t get better. For me, the hideous hell of public school didn’t. To this day I wish I’d been pulled out and homeschooled during high school. My life improved tenfold the day I was able to leave that environment behind and has continued to improve since then. College was wonderful. I found fulfilling work. But I still have nightmares about having to go back to that place. Listen to your children. Traditional school isn’t for everyone and today there are lots of alternative options. I have a brave aunt who showed me that there are no rules about school. She had three children and each year they would sit down and plot the year based on the needs of each child. One year she had a child in public, a child in private, and another homeschooling. If school is breaking your child, then maybe it is the school that needs to be broken away.

    1. My high school experience was also the pits. I transferred schools midway through 9th grade and didnt find my “crowd” until 11th. I had two straight years of lonely anxiety, and knowing i wont make any froends, and they’re-all-laughing-at-me. It was horrible. Whatever you do, dont tell your kid “oh, just get over yourself. It’s not all about you.” I can tell ypu from experience, that doesnt work either.

    2. This was my experience, too, MK. I had great freshman/sophomore years at one school, then transferred and had a terrible time my final two years… and it never did get better there. So I’m trying not to project my bad experience on my kid, knowing this experience is different than mine. BUT I also really want to honor what the kid is telling me. We’ve always done a mix of public and private schools, knowing there’s no one right thing for everyone. Exploring our options with this kid, too, and trying to find a way forward. Thanks for your story. I appreciate it.

  15. How are you in my brain typing exactly what I think?

    What is super fun is when the 2 who aren’t having fun are completely different personalities, which means you start doing the exponential or ! math thing to calculate how many strategies you are going to have to try to get both of them to an okay point.

    Does it help that your in-the-same-boat message to thousands of us out here is helping us even though you think you can’t help your kids (but you are)?

    1. Yes, actually. That does help. Thank you, Anna. It’s always a gift when we know we’re not alone.

  16. I remember going through those times myself as I attended five different schools in five years. Each time I would go through the tough times and then I would somehow find my purpose by helping someone else out. by connecting with others, I became grounded and could continue on the journey… My memories include simple things like cleaning a fish tank for a teacher or helping another new student who was having trouble making friends (little did they know that I was, too!) I believe that we all need to feel connected and the more that we as parents, and teachers can do to encourage this, the better off we’ll all be. Hoping those connections will begin to happen for your kiddos very soon.

    1. I love this perspective, Janie. What a wonderful thing to learn.

  17. I would love a magic answer to this. my poor second grader is so unexcited about school. namely because her very best friend went to private school this year and her second best friend moved away and she is so afraid of having no more friends. considering her class of 30 kids has only six girls in it she has a valid argument. I wish there were some way to get her to understand she WILL make new friends.

  18. 3 out 5 over a career gets you into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the 1st ballot.

    1. Ha! LOVE this. I want it on a plaque.

  19. This might not be as
    an option for you, but have you considered home school? Now it’s possible to do free online public school, so the curriculum is all set but your child would be home. That’s what we were planning to do with our teenager this year, before he decided not to come back from visiting his mom in Texas. :-/

  20. My kids are always terrified of starting school. All the prep in the world and all the cheer-leading in the world doesn’t quite help. What helps is to remind them that they have been scared and nervous before (last year, the year before)- and that is ok. It’s how it should be. But then I remind them that they have conquered this battle before. They might be scared, but they have the tools to make it work. They have been brave before and this is an opportunity to be capable and do hard work. Then I remind them how well it has turned out before. It just gets easier each year.

  21. See….that is the beauty of having a bunch of kids, even when it is sort of sucky. Imagine if you only had the 2 who are not happy to be back at school, then it would be 100%!!! Oh, my gosh!!!

    I remember when I said to a friend, the good thing about having 3 kids is that when 2 of them are fighting, 1 isn’t! Yippee!!

    Remember you are just a human being doing your best and I’ve learned that your kids know that.

  22. Thank you for your wisdom, hard earned though it may be. Isn’t it fun how life will keep giving us the same lessons if we don’t actually remember them?

    I have a smaller sample size for my back-to-school research.

    Day one: kid who has school issues gets a lovely, positive, cheerful email home from new teacher.

    Day two: kid who has school issues tells kid who accidentally bumps into him on the playground, “My parents will kill your parents” and when teacher steps in tells her, “You are the worst teacher ever.”

    For the record, I would so NOT KILL another kid’s parents.

    We spent the evening writing achingly sincere apology notes. “Sometimes when I’d mad I say things I don’t mean. I still want to be your friend.” Then he went up to his room and picked out a toy car for the boy he threatened and a collection of cute erasers for the teacher. I told him, “Tomorrow will probably go better,” because I know enough to not say it WILL go better.

    And today I met my 70 new 7th graders and tomorrow will meet my 96 new 8th graders.

    And I have another kid, who’s doing fine, but then I worry–is she stuffing everything because she knows I will LOSE MY CRAP if I have one more thing to deal with? So I try telling her, “You know, I will love you to pieces when you screw up,” which seems like a weird thing to be telling my 2nd grader, but sometimes telling people stuff is the best way to get them to know what you’re thinking.

    Sometimes.

    I’m tired. Forgive the ramble. Good night.

    1. Oh, I love this, Wendy. Especially putting it on the record that you won’t kill another kid’s parents. Gah! KIDS. And we’ve been there 1,000 times with writing the apology notes. My favorite was the note my kid wrote in the 2nd grade promising not to punch 4th graders in the nuts anymore. I would’ve preferred for him to promise to never punch other kids ANYWHERE ever again, but he was way more realistic than me. And he kept his promise! No more nut-punching 4th graders. 🙂

  23. O.M.G. Right? How do you NOT try to fix things? A struggle I constantly face — honor and respect their feelings while ALSO (yeah!) trying to fix it and make it better. Sheesh. Not an easy balance. No advice, just good wishes that tomorrow might be better. Or maybe someone will have some kind of magic solution they recommend (in which case there will be a LOT of folks who want it, too!) I never comment, but read *always* and so appreciate you!!
    –arden–

    1. Thanks for this, Arden!

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