I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sent Big off to kindergarten (besides a lot of tears—which ended up being mine, not his). I guess I figured by the end he’d know how to write his name. Maybe read a few words. Add two plus two.
For those of you who have kinder grads, you can imagine my surprise by the end of the year when the list of academic milestones went beyond my wildest imagination. (What did they do to my baby?!)
But honestly, when I sent him off into the world of the big K, what I wanted most for Big was for him to grow socially. To learn to make friends. To learn that it’s ok not to be friends with everybody, but it’s not ok to be mean to anybody. To learn that different people like different things and have different strengths—that’s what makes everybody really interesting. Ok, maybe my standards were even higher than the district’s. But you get my point.
One thing I honestly hadn’t considered was how he would learn all this. At back-to-school night, his teacher (who I soon learned was truly wonderful) outlined what they’d be learning, gave us a huge folder of info (that I honestly don’t think I ever opened because I was so overwhelmed), and told us what a great group of kids it was. She could sense it already. She also quickly mentioned there would be some aides in the class because they had a few kids with special needs. The school grouped them all in one class, which, in her mind was great because she’d always have extra adult eyes and hands helping her out.
In no time, I realized this quick aside wasn’t an aside at all. It was a great big huge deal. The challenges these kids faced, compared to my shy, but eager little boy, were unimaginable to me. But there they were, right next to him. Day after very long day.
It didn’t take long to realize that these kids—along with their aides and families—brought a bit of magic to the classroom. These kids taught their peers that what might seem like a little triumph, was truly worthy of celebration. That even against great odds, you can succeed. That everybody learns in different ways and at different speeds and with different tools. But most importantly, they (unassumingly) taught their classmates compassion.
I watched the kids in the class help their friends when they needed an extra hand. It was never out of pity, or for special attention from the teacher. Kindness seemed to come quite naturally to these kids. But I have no doubt their teacher fostered these wonderful dynamics. The result was amazing. The kids didn’t tease or taunt, they cheered and encouraged. Not just the kids with challenges, but everyone around them.
The parents of these special needs kids left me in awe as well. Not because they were so different, but because they were exactly the same. They adored their kids, did everything they could to participate and support the class (which was far more than I did), and watched on with pride. Their ever-present smiles were contagious. And, as lucky as Big was to spend time with their kids, I felt even luckier to spend time with them.
I also can’t help but be so grateful for the aides that spent every day in the class as well. While the extra eyes and hands were definitely valuable, the extra heart was invaluable. It takes a special person to dedicate their career to helping kids with difficulties—I know because I watched my mom do it for many years. These women had a true love of kids and a desire to help them grow. They took such pride in their work—which was extremely emotional and physical work—and the huge strides I watched all the kids in the class make were proof of that.
Yes, Big and I learned a lot in kindergarten. Far more than the file of papers I collected throughout the year will ever show. It was a magical year. One I hope neither of us ever forgets. I will forever be so grateful for the life lessons we learned, and the very special friends we made along the way.