“I have Mrs. Smith,” I said.
“I have Mr. Jones,” she said. I felt the nausea sweep over me like an instant case of food poisoning. How are we supposed to survive third grade with all of our friends in a different class than us?!
For the record, I have long graduated from college…let alone third grade. But my firstborn going to third grade has put me in a time warp machine. It doesn’t matter that I won’t be sitting in the short desks with these peers, it doesn’t matter that I won’t be the one restricted to dining with these kids at lunch, and it doesn’t matter that the kids in the other class aren’t actually my friends (in fact, some actually drive me crazy). All that matters is that my son, a continuation of me, is disappointed.
Back in my day, before we were given school iPads or received newsletters via email, we found our class list posted outside our classroom the day before school started. I remember that feeling of going classroom to classroom, desperately searching for our names and cringing when we didn’t find ours next to our friends.
But nowadays, we can no longer see our children’s classmates. We must text our parental peers to find out the other kids in our kid’s class. The moment in which I learned that my child would be heartbroken, he was in fact miles away from me. You know what they say about the bearer of bad news?
Intellectually I know that it will probably be easier for him to learn without the distraction of friends. Intellectually I know that not having a safety blanket is a learning opportunity for the future. Intellectually I know if these kids really are his friends, they’ll find ways to see each other and stay connected. But emotionally my heart aches for my 8-year-old son.
My son is not the same kind of extrovert who makes friends everywhere he goes like I am. I see his anxiety when we go into circumstances and my heart breaks for him. As a toddler, he would become a wound-up nut when we went into new situations. I spent a long time being frustrated with him and confused why he’d behave that way. If he would hang onto my leg timidly, I probably would have been more understanding of his anxiety. Instead he’d run around like a maniac. It took me a long time to realize that this was the same type of anxiety, just coming out in a different way.
Sure, I could be a helicopter parent and march up to school. I could complain at the fact that 10 boys that are all friends are in one class and a lonesome one is in another. What good would it do? I highly doubt that they would rearrange the classes because a crazed mother complained. Not to mention, what would I be complaining about in regards to my son’s education? He’ll be less distracted without his friends. He’ll be more focused on his lesson plans. Dare I say, he may even make new friends!
But his feelings are hurt today! Can’t they make it stop? Can’t they cushion his experience into third grade a little? Can’t they make life easier for my baby? Isn’t that my job? To do everything possible to make life easier for him?
No. My job (and any parent’s job) is to give him the tools to manage what life deals him. I’m too intimately connected to him to separate his sad feelings from my own. I feel his hurt. And I want to make it stop. But it’s my job to help him through this. It’s my job to help him problem solve—make play dates with these friends so he can still play with his friends when it’s appropriate (and not during class).
It’s my job to teach him to make an opportunity out of this situation—invite new friends from his class over so he can get to know them better. It’s my job to show him that things sometimes don’t go the way you want them to, but you have to make the most out of it.
And maybe at the end of third grade we will both be stronger as a result. Or I’ll cry myself to sleep every night wishing we had Mr. Jones.