Monday, November 22, 2010

It Ain't Easy Being Six

First grade is hard. Beyond the homework that takes an hour each day to complete, in addition to reading, first grade requires that you must put on three pairs of pants in the morning in an effort to find one that fits. Or one that will be deemed acceptable by the first grade peer group. After finally deciding on brown cords, after plaid and khaki were cast aside, the small person admitted that her friend thinks she should wear pink and purple every single day. And knowing that in no way would brown cords be suitable, especially when worn with a red sweater, she sat quite defeated on the floor, working to tie her green tennis shoes, not a shred of pink to be found on her entire body.

"Mom, I am trying to make a new friend because I don't think I can wear pink everyday."

My heart snaps a bit, and I want to pounce on the current friend who is making my lovely child feel anything but wonderful about herself. Make your own kind of music I say, sing your own special song, but singing and living are far from each other, and this little one needs more than a mother who belts out Mama Cass tunes every time she feels down.

Together we tie her shoes.

Mary worked very hard in kindergarten, determined to get her name on the I Can Tie My Own Shoes list. By mid year she had reached her goal, though the knots were loose and required frequent reties. I am always happy to help, I've been tying her shoes for over five years (no shoes required in that first horizontal year). But she likes to do it herself and so the shoes now require even more time as she ties them first and ten minutes later the laces are dragging loosely behind her running feet. We stop and I show her again: one loop, then two, cross, over and through, pull tight. Her short fingers replicate what I do and the whole process begins again.

Tying her own shoes is a step on her long road to independence, one that she will eventually master. And soon she will find that she no longer needs me to stop and help her when they come undone, although I suspect that she might always need me to remind her when that happens.

Finding her own path, her own colors, her own confidence in choosing whatever she wants will take much longer. And while she no longer needs me to button her dress, zip her jacket or tie her shoes, she does need me to stand up for her, and to teach her how to stand up for herself.

There is no I Chose to Wear Whatever Colors I Want list in class, but I think there should be. Until that happens I will follow her around, looping the laces into tight knots, and defending her colors, whatever they might be.

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