Kindergarten was a great year for the little girl who happened to be me. In the same month the my mom married the man I had already started to call DAD, I also started school. I had looked forward to school like no other, I am sure. My mom had read to me so much that I could not wait to read the books that they would have at school. I wanted to go to the school library, listen to the teacher read, and read and read and read.
As a May birthday and as the offspring of two not-too-tall people (ok, really – my mom was short!), I was smaller than most of my classmates. I had to use a stool to reach the water fountain in the classroom. One of my “boy friends” (I think we were even married on the playground at some point) could actually rest his arm on my head. Being small did not matter to me because I loved school.
Mrs. Sanderson was a wonderful teacher. She ran our kindergarten classroom in ways that you could tell she loved to teach and that you could tell she was good at it. I do not remember our class getting into trouble much. I have super fond memories of kindergarten – learning to read and more.
Both of my parents worked during the day, so my younger brother spent the days with “Grandma Babysitter” and her husband – yep, you got it – “Grandpa Babysitter.” They lived within walking distance of my school, so I walked to kindergarten after lunch (this was back in the days of half day only) and then their house when kindergarten was over. I remember watching The Beverly Hillbillies at their house while having an afternoon snack before one of my parents came to pick me up.
I had a super cute winter coat and boots that year. I confidently walked from school to the babysitters’ house one day midwinter. Suddenly, two second grade (aka BIG) boys came up from behind me and pushed me into the snow. I was shocked, scared, and – of course – wet and cold. They pushed more snow into my face and laughed at me. I think I probably started to cry, and that probably made them laugh harder. Before long, though, they left me alone.
As I slowly pulled myself out of the snow bank, I looked up. There was my dad. This only made me cry harder, of course, because I was hurt, upset, wet, and cold before I saw him. But now, there was my dad to save me from all of this. He picked me up, dusted the snow off of my clothes, and put me in his car. I do not remember if I spent the afternoon at the babysitters’ house or not. In fact, I do not remember anything else from that day.
What I do remember from that day was that my dad was there just after the whole thing had happened. Had he arrived on the scene just moments before, he would have been there to take those kids to task for picking on his daughter. But he was not there then. He arrived after the fact. And to a certain extent, now – as a 38 year old – I actually think that was good. I learned something very important that day although I doubt that I could articulate it at that young of an age.
Up until that day, I probably thought that my parents could keep me safe from just about anything that came my way. But that was no longer true.
Going to kindergarten was just the start of many years of gradually getting more and more independent from my parents. Until then, my parents had controlled as much as they could: who watched me while they worked, what I did in my free time, and who my friends were. Once kindergarten started, though, I was on a trajectory to become the person I am today. And part of that trajectory, unfortunately, included getting shoved in the snow by second graders or being made fun of because I was shorter than the rest of the class. They no longer could protect me from all of the negative parts of what the world had to offer me.
Looking back, though, I am not sure that is all bad. In fact, the need for children to grow up and become independent from their parents is foundational to development. Becoming independent means that, sometimes, things will go well for us while at other times some big kid is going to push us into the snow. My dad showing up to console me rather than to save me probably did not seem like the right thing at the time, but I probably learned much more because that is how it went down.
What did I learn beside the fact that those big kids were mean to me? Well, for starters, I discovered that snow will not kill me even though North Dakota snow banks are pretty cold. I learned that I could pull myself up and out of a snow bank without anyone else’s help. I also have dusted myself off and made it to the babysitter’s house, but it sure was nice to have someone else come along and give me a ride home.
More than anything, though, I learned that my dad’s big, strong arms might not stop what the world sends my way but they will always be there to remind me that he loves me. It may seem like a cliché, but a hug from my dad really can make something big and awful seem like I could conquer it. He will not usually conquer it for me, and that is a gift. But he is always there to give me a hug, listen to me talk something out, or just agree with me that something is not fair.
Please hear the next paragraph with the understanding that there are definitely extreme times when adults need to step in, protect kids, and make it all stop. However, kids do not need their parents or their teachers to fix everything or to protect them from all of the negative possibilities that are out there. The more typical truth is that adults need to get out of the way of the action and simply be available on the sidelines to cheer or to console.
Without the lesson from the snow, I may have missed out on this important knowledge. While I would have preferred to have skipped the snow experience, I doubt that I would have known these truths about myself and about my dad from something that did not involve adversity.
How has this been true in your life? What life lessons have you learned from difficulties?