Monday, August 31, 2009

Beating a bad day in kindergarten (by Billy Coffey)

I remember two things about my first day of kindergarten.

One was that my teacher was Mrs. Frost and that her name fit perfectly with her personality. So much so that by snack time on that first day I was planning her downfall, by lunch I was imagining my own, and by recess I was praying for the rapture.

Which brings me to the second memory, which is of me uttering that prayer from inside a partially buried tractor tire that was part of the playground equipment. I’d hidden there as the rest of the class lined up after recess, and I planned on staying put until either Jesus came or the school year was over.

Jesus didn’t come of course, but Mrs. Frost did. The subsequent chewing out she gave me remains fresh in my mind even after all these years. Mrs. Frost was not my favorite teacher, which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I was not her favorite pupil.

I was thinking about all of that two Sundays ago as I tucked my son into bed. It was an important moment, the magnitude of which was not lost on either of us. I may have been pulling the covers over a boy, but what would emerge from them the next day would be a young man. One who would trade worn pajamas and Spongebob for new jeans and a teacher.

Unlike me at his age, my son was looking forward to his first day of school. It was the promise of newness that enchanted him—new clothes, new notebooks and pencils, new people and places. That night would be to him a sort of baptism. He would go to sleep one person and awake another.

As I write this there are two pictures in front of me. One shows him on the front porch just before leaving for school, back straight and chin out, a smiling Alexander the Small out to defeat the world. Because new things are easy. New things are exciting. And our days were meant for conquering.

The second picture was taken just a few hours later. He is slumped in his chair at school, shoulders rounded and chin tucked. His smile is still there, though barely and forced. And his new Lightning McQueen book bag is shoved to the side and all but forgotten.

What happened? Simple. My son had discovered in the span of two hours one of life’s most difficult lessons to learn—not all of our days are meant for conquering. Sometimes the best we can do is survive them.

And he survived. He did not hide in playground equipment and did not get yelled at by his teacher. There was no plotting of anyone’s downfall. In fact, he came home smiling. All because he learned how to turn a bad day upside down.
For instance.

That second picture I was telling you about? The one with the slumped shoulders and the forced smile? That’s rule number one—smile anyway. It might be difficult and it might not look pretty, but sometimes thinking you’re happy will make you so. My experience anyway.

He made friends, too. Fellow castaways on the strange island of Education. Boys and girls who weren’t having such a great day themselves, but who banded together because of it. Which just goes to show that misery may indeed love company, but only so a little happiness can sprout.

And he played. He ran and jumped and colored and stood in the sun. He felt better after that, he told me. I could see why. Playing makes any day a good one, even if it’s really sort of bad.

But most of all? He prayed. Not aloud, and not so anyone would notice. Such things are frowned upon in public schools. Instead, he kept his eyes and ears open, trusting that God would do two things: get him through the day, and get him home.

I’ll always remember my first day of kindergarten, though maybe for the wrong reasons. I hope my son remembers his, too. I know I will. Because he taught me what we’re all supposed to do when our days start out heading north only to take a sudden turn southward.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.


Denise said...

Such precious lessons that we can learn from children, bless you.

Helen said...

Keep on keeping on...A very important lesson, indeed.

Sarah Salter said...

"Smile anyway."

Yep, that's my motto. :-)

Jess said...

Once again, a post by Billy Coffey that totally changes my outlook on my day ahead!! Love it love it love it! Keep 'em coming!

Deborah Ann said...

Thanks for sharing this! So much talent. I never heard of Billy Coffey before, glad to pick up reflections from a fellow writer.


sherri said...

Smart boy. Great lesson.

Doug Spurling said...

Hi Billy, Thank your son for me,great lesson.

"Instead, he kept his eyes and ears open, trusting that God would do two things: get him through the day, and get him home"

Eyes, ears open.
Trust God.
Pray - Get me through and get me home.

Home Run.

Liz said...

Good for him!
I love this: "Playing makes any day a good one, even if it’s really sort of bad."
So true!
Thanks, Billy!

Connie Arnold said...

What a great post! My grandson just started kindergarten, and I wonder if he had a similar experience. My daughter sent a before picture and said he enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing the lesson here that's a good one for everyone!

Jim H said...

I'm with Jess - I needed an attitude adjustment today - thanks for the gentle kick where I needed it most, Billy - you're a constant blessing!

April said...

Ahh...those first days of school...I remember them well. I don't think my heart has ever ached as much as the day I sent my girls off to school for the first time. I knew that they were going to have to find their own way...and I'm so proud of the young women they're becoming. Great post, never disappoint!

Kelly Combs said...

I am praying that my daughter will not only overcome the first day, but enjoy it. I always enjoyed school, and my oldest LOVES school, so I am hopeful the youngest will too.

We consider it a social opportunity, with a side of education. :-)

Anonymous said...

We have a 'first' day of school in just two days. I will be sharing this with my daughter so as she enters that big, bad middle school with shaky nerves and anxiety...she can place a smile on her face and a prayer in her heart!
Thanks Billy.

FaithBarista Bonnie said...

Aw. Way to go slugger, little Billy!

A smile and some friends. What a great life!

I miss school reading this post. I had Mrs. Sunshine for my Kindergarten teacher. Sorry you had Mrs. Frost.

Thanks, Billy.

jasonS said...

Choosing to smile and be happy is a huge thing. Lots of people never get it. I think we need to be emotionally honest and sometimes we need comfort and help from others, but a lot times people embrace "bad moods" when they could simply choose something different. Sorry, didn't meant to get stuck on that point, but good post. :)

Candace Jean July 16 said...

This is so timely for me, Billy (as usual). Bless you!

Rebecca on The Homefront said...

Billy, you also hid in the sunken tires of your school? I can't say that I did it on my first day of kindergarten, but I know there were times I couldn't face returning from recess and used those tires for a hiding place as long as possible.

Honestly, I had a great first day of kindergarten...all the way until my mom told me I'd be doing it again the next morning. I figured I'd come, I'd seen, I'd move on...but nothin' doin'.

I'm glad to hear your son made the best of his first day. What an adorable little guy!

Beth E. said...

I think you have one smart little fella there, Billy! It takes some people many years to learn to pray to get through the day!

I hope he has a great school year...

~*Michelle*~ said...

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, huh?

Wise little man you are raisin' Billy.

thanks so much for sharing him with us today. :)

Anonymous said...

Nicely written, Billy. Tough days are gonna be there, no matter what, but it's nice to know we have a rock on which we can stand.

Tina Dee Books said...

Great post, Billy!

I guess I better go get myself & little tiger back to school now...thanks for the fun break!

KM Wilsher said...

Wow, the Spirit really works through you, BC. I really needed this. . .btw, what a precious family you have, indeed!

Heather Sunseri said...

"That’s rule number one—smile anyway." - That's my favorite rule. My kids know that it is okay to be upset, and it's okay not be happy about something, but when illness or blood is not involved, and there's nothing you can do about a bad situation, smile and fight through the pain. You can cry later.

Wendy said...

It's probably a good thing that the evil Mrs. Frost came and pulled you out of that tire. For one thing, you'd probably be awfully uncomfortable if you were still in it. But mostly, you would have missed out on a whole lot if you'd stayed there.

Beth said...

Hmmm...good reminder that I need to tell my little kindergartener she can pray anytime, anywhere when she's having a bad day! We had a few tears today when I went to pick her up...just because she was tired and missed us I think, but other than that she's liking school so far. Praying for your little guy, too, Billy!

Joanne Sher said...

What an incredible lesson. Your boy sounds like me. Good stuff.