It happened. Over the weekend my phone rang and a sweet, recorded voice said, “Please stay on the line for a message from your principal.” I waited and within a second I heard a kind voice begin, “Good evening families. This is your principal…” My heart actually began to flutter and I could feel my breath shorten. This is really it. The train is moving and there is no getting off. Audrey is about to embark on a journey into school. Real school. Big school. Whatever you want to call it I just know it means a super change to our life.
I am terribly excited for her. I know she will simply blossom in school and she will make friends very quickly. Resiliency is always found in the youngest. I know she has some trepidation about the move – how do I know? Well she tells me, of course. “Mom, I don’t really like it when things change.” She is clear about her feelings for sure. Despite her uncertainty about moving to a new school I know she will find security and routine relatively fast. Within a few days she will have replaced her sadness for the friends left behind and replace that with excitement about the new.
So clearly my anxiety is not for the transition of my daughter. No, the rapid pitter patter of my heart is for none other than the mother. Oh yes, starting new school experiences have not been the easiest for me…
Flashback to 2009 when Audrey first started at her current school. She was 18 months old and this was her first real school-type setting. There were ten little ones in her class with two teachers. I was a wreck. So much to think about – supplies, procedure, pick-up and drop-off…I wanted to make sure I got it all right. The last thing I wanted was for her teachers to dislike us. Very important factor – good relationships with teachers! Then there were the other moms…I wanted to be sure to slowly but surely get to know them, too. After all, our kids will be friends – together every day. Another very important factor – relationships with my kid’s friends mothers!
On her first day of school Audrey was bit by a classmate. I was horrified. I show up to find my daughter in one piece and perfectly fine as if nothing happened. Clearly the experience was harder on me then it was for her. It was then that the teachers kindly reminded me that I had forgotten to sign her in that morning. They also reminded me that I didn’t provide the correct case to dispense her wipes and I needed supply something new. Oh dear God. My worst nightmare – I know at this moment we are being labeled as the “problem family.” Who knows, maybe Audrey initiated the biting incident and clearly I am unable to follow procedure. It’s the only rational explanation.
On the way home that afternoon I stopped at the store to get the correct wipes case and while I was there I decided to pick up a few supplies for the teachers. Make good on this less-than-stellar first start. I bought Ziploc bags, paper towels, and tissues. Looking back, my attempt was well intended except for the fact that paper towels and tissues are supplied to every classroom daily. The only things that may have been of any value were the baggies. At least I hope.
The next morning, day two, I was intent on getting things right. I head back to the school juggling my toddler and the unnecessary supplies while trying to remember to sign her in. I reach the classroom and am greeted by another mom and her daughter. Let me give some perspective here. The group of students making up this class is diverse. There are three little girls who are Asian. Standing in front of me is a mother and her daughter who are Asian. Of course I say hello, acknowledging mother and daughter. The mother says hello to me and then looks at my daughter and says, “Good morning Audrey!” I almost dropped the useless boxes of Kleenex. We haven’t been in this building for 24 hours and this woman knows my child’s name? How is this possible? I feel even more anxious which also makes me feel the need to stay highly stupid things. Do you ever have one of those moments when your brain leaves your head and stands next to you with this ‘I gotta see this!’ look? Well this was one of those moments for me. I look down at her daughter in an attempt to acknowledge her like her mother did to Audrey and say, “Good morning Amanda!” My brain cringed. I called her Amanda. I didn’t call her Ashley, Kristen, or Emma. I called her Amanda. This happens to be the name of one of the little girls in the class, yes. One of the Asian girls in the class. Just not this Asian girl. As I stood there, realizing that the noises in the hallway were beginning to sounds like echoes, I have just embodied every stereotype of the stupid white woman who thinks all Asian people look alike.
The mother looked at me, paused, and said, “That’s the Korean girl.” Son-of-a-shit. Now I have done it. I have ruined any possibility that we will become part of this classroom community. It makes no difference what comes out of my mouth at this point. I’m horrified at myself. I like to think of myself as inclusive and caring. So much for Audrey having friends. I’ve highly insulted this mother and can’t think of any way to repair the damage except to appeal to her sixth sense, clearly her fashion sense. While my eyes were darting in all directions I caught a glance of her bright orange patent leather sky-high heels. I utter an honest apology and sincerely compliment her on her fierce shoe selection. I manage to get my kid in the door, distribute my useless paper products, and sign in. I retrieved my brain from the hallway and headed out the door. I got in my car, called my mother and cried.
About two weeks later I felt like I had recovered from this unfortunate incident and began to feel more comfortable. We were getting used to the routine, I was developing a positive rapport with the teachers. I felt like there was a glimmer of hope that Audrey would actually end up happy and successful with this group of kids. My fears of her being an outcast were fading. I just want to do what is right for her, as well all do.
I will not bore you with the details of the parking situation at school except that you should know across the front of the building there are several angled parking spots with a traffic lane behind them. No one is supposed to park in the traffic lane but of course people do. Leaving school one day I was backing out and, you guess it, I backed into the bumper of a van parked in the traffic lane. Son-of-a-shit. I get out and survey the damage – nothing really expect a tiny scratch of paint on the side bumper. No one saw what happened but I was not about to leave the scene. I waited for a few minutes and then went back in to find the director of the school. I explained what happened. She agreed to make an announcement. No one came. Several more minutes and no one came. I decided to wait by my car. I suddenly see someone pass through the front doors but I didn’t catch a good look – what did catch my eye, though was the bright orange color of this person’s shoes. You cannot be flipping serious. Of course I’m serious. That’s right, it’s her. So apparently it was not enough for me to insult her heritage but now I have to back up and crash into her car? What can I possibly say to her? There are no words here. I can say nothing. She was kind enough to assure me that it was all fine and that she was not planning to sue me for being an asshole. I went right then to purchase her several car wash services. It was either that or buy her shoes and I just don’t think I could make the right selection.
This time I’m hoping to take a lesson from my kids. Relax. Remember that we all make mistakes and we don’t love you any less for them. We don’t judge people by their mistakes. What’s really important is how fast you run on the playground. When it comes to the new mothers I will soon meet I just hope that I can keep up.