Friday, September 21, 2007

The Queen of The First Grade

Kindergarten was not kind to us. Sure, we started off the year with the usual excitement, but by the end of the first month, we knew that something was just not right. We were getting notes home. We were getting calls from the teacher telling us that Cathryn had thrown her shoes off and declared that "she was done with school". Richie and I put in a full day's worth of work trying to get her out of bed in the mornings, only to be met with more tears and stubbornness. Progress Report days were met with dread, and Richie and I prayed for the school year to end. This wasn't our perky, happy little girl who danced into preschool every morning. If you asked her how she liked school, she responded with a prompt "pthhhttthp" and a thumbs-down.

We had a good kindergarten teacher, but an aide that didn't like children. "I can't do anything right," Cathryn told Cathy. Sure enough, she was correct. The woman didn't smile. The woman wouldn't speak to the kids on the street. The woman would yell at the kids in the hall for not walking the goosestep and for being happy that the school day was over and swinging their lunchboxes by their sides. To me, that is a precious sight, to see children excited about the school day ending, excited about seeing their mom or dad or grandparent or babysitter. But that's me--I like to feel loved.

Imagine our trepidation as first grade rolled around. We were under enough stress--Trey was leaving for Coker soon. When the class lists were posted, I rushed over to the school to find out who would have to deal with Cathryn's prejudice against school. With the poor teacher's name in tow, I met up separately with two different teachers from the same school who taught in different grades. Holding my breath, I gave them the name. The teachers glowed. "Cathryn will love her," one of them said. "She's really structured, but she's also really sweet, and let me tell you--she loves those kids." I began to exhale a little, thinking we could really have a shot this year.

We approached the first day of school with what I like to call "muted excitement". We carefully chose an outfit for the first day (last year, she decided what she was going to wear the first week); we bought school supplies (scented monkey head erasers and pretty pencils for extra incentives), and went over accepted behavior for the classroom. There was to be no shoe-throwing this year.

That morning, she took a shower and got dressed with the kind of excitement we hadn't seen in a long time. She asked me to walk her in (of course, I was going to go anyway so I could meet the lady who was garnering such rave reviews from other adults), and as we did, she began pointing people out to me. "Mommy, that's my music teacher!" she exclaimed. "Mommy, that's the new principal!" We walked down the first grade hall like she was the marshal of the First Day of School Parade.

Walking into her new classroom ("Across from the library, Mama!"), we saw a blonde woman at the back of the room who's eyes lit up at the sight of this little brunette in plaid shorts and a red polo shirt. "You must be Cathryn," she said with a smile. Cathryn nodded numbly. She couldn't believe this woman knew her name! The teacher hugged Cathryn tightly and introduced herself as she ushered the still-stunned little girl to her new desk, which had a brand-new pencil ("First Grade is Great!"), a small bottle of bubble soap, and a pack of Care Bear gummies decorating the top.

I knew Cathryn was in Heaven as we walked to the cafeteria for breakfast--she could hardly eat, and couldn't wait to get back to her classroom, where the teacher told me to give her a kiss--they were going to use that kiss later. (Which I was going to give her anyway, and who was going to stop me?) The sweetest "Bye, Mama!" followed me down the hall. I was floating on air.

She came home just as excited as she left. She joyfully handed over her bookbag, and I filled out all the necessary forms. But as I sifted through the pile of white, blue, and yellow papers, a little card with a raccoon waving on the front caught my attention. When I opened it up, this is what greeted me:

"A piece of me I give to you,
This special heart because
I love you.
This heart is you, the hand is me.
It shows that we are a family."

My eyes filled up with tears as I saw the picture of our little girl smiling a little nervously back up at me. Cathryn had arrived, and she was truly set to become The Queen of The First Grade.

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