The hubs and I walked into our daughter’s classroom early on a chilly Thursday morning. Even though she is in kindergarten, parent/teacher conferences are nothing new to us – our daughter’s need for special education was identified early in her life, so we’d already been through 3 years of preschool. Maybe we haven’t heard it all, but we’ve heard a lot – the devastating “she should be…”s, the hopeful “it’s great to see…”s, the teachers who are clearly trying to churn through their list of parents, and the teachers whose passion for what they do is palpable.
We sat down on tiny chairs and stifled their pleads for mercy. I wasn’t expecting much out of the ordinary; I was looking forward to hearing what her teacher had to say and talking about what our next goals were, but I was also (#workingmomconfession) thinking about the meeting I was going to have to bust my ass to get to on time after the conference. Then her regular classroom teacher (vs. special education teacher) sat down on her own tiny chair, and said:
“She’s doing a really nice job of making friends.”
I did not see that coming. I am not a crier, I kind of detest crying. But my child feeling included is on my mind and on my heart all. the. time.
After the teacher found me a box of tissues, we talked about how the more nurturing children in the class will cater to her, and how in general, a lot of the children treat her like a little sister. And that is fine with me – I don’t need her to be prom queen (or queen of the blocks, or whatever equivalent kindergartners can be queen of), I just don’t want her to feel alone.
My daughter is with other kids all the time. School, neighborhood friends, church choir. But when you can’t communicate the same way everyone else can, I question if she ever feels truly “with” them. People are scared of what they don’t understand, even adults (actually, maybe especially adults). I’ve seen kids be mean to her. I’ve seen kids ignore her. I’ve seen kids approach her, realize something is a little different, and not know how to react. I’ve also seen kids be really sweet and kind.
Children are figuring out their way in the world, and teaching them how to treat other people is the responsibility of us as parents. Yes I think about this when I think of my child who has some extra needs, but I also think about it when my three year old tells me she doesn’t want to play with a certain child who is always scared at preschool. How do I make her understand how that kiddo might feel? How do I explain to her how much joy she might bring to him just by inviting him into her game? And even the most perfect parent in the world can’t teach everything – some of this they have to figure out on their own. Which means sometimes others will be mean to them, and sometimes they will be the one being mean. I was a kid once, I remember.
So as a non-perfect parent, I hope other non-perfect parents don’t mind me making a request. If you’re lucky enough to have only the “average” amount of worry that your child won’t make friends, appreciate that. I am so envious of you. And teach your child that different doesn’t mean bad, and extending an invitation to play to someone who looks lonely just might make their day.