Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Day You Begin

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one is quite like you.
Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes or the curl of your hair.
There will be times when no one will understand the way words curl from your mouth,
The beautiful language of the country you left behind...
And because they don't understand the room will fill with laughter until the teachers quiets everyone...
There will be time when the words don't come.
Your own voice, once huge, now smaller.

I love every, single thing I've ever read from Jacqueline Woodson.  (In fact I wrote about some of her middle grade fiction here.) This beautiful book about the fear of new beginnings is no different.  I got teary just from reading the preview pages online. Beginnings are hard! We who have had so many first days of school can easily forget that our children are staring into the unknown and possibly scary when they walk into a new classroom or a new school for the first time.

Beginnings can be full of anxiety, especially if you have a kid that leans that way anyway.  What will my teacher be like? Will the work be too hard? Who will be my friend?  Am I wearing the right thing? I don't want to leave my mom! Woodson's book layers in the additional complexity of language and race and offers an opportunity to ask, "Why do you think 'the curl of her hair' might make her fell out of place?" and "What make you feel unsure or alone?" Young or old we all know what it's like to want to be understood and feel welcomed in a new place.

We may not be able to completely remove our kids' anxiety about beginning something new, but we can assure them of two things: our love for them and God's constant care.

Small comfort? Maybe.  But if you have the space for it and can carve out the time, try a night-before or morning-of blessing and litany of beginning.  You can make up your own words that make sense for your context and the age of your child, but the scripts that we repeat in our heads are powerful, no matter our age, so give your kid the script.  It might go something like this:

Tomorrow you are beginning a new thing. I'm proud of you and I want to bless you and send you on your way with words to help you when you feel nervous or uncertain. When you need to remind yourself of your own strength.  I want to to say these words each time:  God is with me. My family loves me. I can do hard things!

When you step into your new classroom for the first time...
When you're discovering all your new routines and schedules...
When you're wondering who will be your partner, who will sit with you at lunch, who to be your friend...
When you feel challenged by the school work...
When you feel overwhelmed or anxious...
When you miss the ones you love...
God is with you.  Your family loves you. You are strong and you can do hard things!

An optional addition to such a blessing which has been helpful in my experience is a meaningful tangible reminder of the care, love and safety for your child to carry with them.  A piece of jewelry or small item that fits in a pocket quietly says, "God is with me, my people love me, I am not alone."

If you have a child for whom newness is exciting, an adventure to be embraced, rejoice! Or even if this new beginning is just another day, I think it's still worthwhile to bless these new steps with courage and joy and determination.  To thank God for the the Spirit within them, delighting in the opportunities that await.  A litany for such a child can be a celebration, in the spirit of the end of Woodson's book:

This is the day you begin
to find the places inside
your laughter and your lunches,
your books, your travel and your stories,

where every new friend has something
a little like you - and something else
so fabulously not quite like you
at all.

Peace to you in the days of preparation and beginnings.