Project Happy: The Best Kindergarten Teacher

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to sit down and reflect on the small moments of happiness…not because they don’t exist, but simply because life is busy.  We’ve been through some big transitions around here, and I needed the space to help my kids adjust to a new routine.  Ok, maybe I needed some adjusting too…why does school have to start so early?

Liam walked into his first day of preschool without a worry to speak of.  I thought that he would cry.  I worried that he wouldn’t like it (Sean likes to refer to him as a “stay at home son”).  I feared that would just keep to himself instead of engaging with the other kids.  And, as predicted, he woke up on that first morning and declared that he had no intention of going to school.  Huh.  We talked, we cuddled, I promised to stick around until he felt safe, and we agreed to tuck Giraffie into his cubby (just in case).  And off we went.  As promised, I stayed for a little while, gradually moving toward the door.  After about 1/2 hour, I told him that I was running out for coffee.  I hugged him, kissed him, and reminded him that mommy is always in his heart.  With glassy eyes, he looked up at me and said, “it’s ok, Mommy.  I will be brave.”  It nearly broke my heart.  I ran to the car and sobbed, wondering why a 3 1/2 year old boy should have to be brave.  I considered going back early.  I couldn’t think of a single thing to do but worry during those two hours.  And when I returned to pick him up?  He was singing with the other kids.  He had spent the morning playing with another boy named Liam and having fun.  He shared.  He rode a trike.  He even ate his snack.  In short, he loved it.  He still does.

Even though I miss him terribly on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I am so very happy to see him learning, growing, and making new friends.

Riley had an amazing start to Kindergarten.  She loves her teacher, was placed in a class with her friend, and has already made a few new friends.  She was elated to be sent (with another student) on an important errand to the library and she can’t get enough of homework (who knew?)  Yes, that first week was wonderful.

But then, gradually, there was a shift.  My normally very sparkly little girl was a little less sparkly.  She started to drag her heels in the morning.  She wasn’t as excited at pick-up.  Be week three, she was sobbing in my arms night after night.

Lunch is too fast; I can’t eat my food.

Recess is too hard, there are too many kids.  I can’t find my friends.

I’m afraid of getting lost or left behind.

I just play alone.  I walk back and forth near the teacher until she blows the whistle.

Last week I stopped by recess a couple of times to see how she was doing.  Just as she said, she was playing alone, walking back and forth near the teacher.  My heart nearly shattered.  I fought back tears as I watched from a distance, helpless.

On Friday, I pulled her from school early.  We went out for a family lunch to celebrate Sean’s birthday, and then watched the space shuttle land at LAX.  And a funny thing happened…her sparkle returned.

We spent the weekend cuddling, playing, and just enjoying family time.  With one soccer game, naturally.  My sweet girl was happy once again.

Until Sunday night…when the tears returned.

So I did as any mom would do…I talked to the teacher this morning.  I explained that Riley is completely overwhelmed at recess, that she can’t find her friends, and that she’s afraid of missing the whistle and being left behind.  Then I hugged and kissed my sweet little girl and put my faith in her teacher.

I’m so glad I had that conversation this morning.

When I returned to pick her up, my sweet girl was happy and full of smiles.  As her teacher stood behind her, playing with her hair and letting her know that she cares, they told me about the new system:  The teacher paired them off in buddies so that no one would ever feel alone and everyone could count on someone else to help listen for the whistle.

When I watched her at recess today, I saw a happy girl running, climbing, and playing with her friends.  I saw my sweet, sparkly girl reaching out to her friends from soccer and smiling as she waved to me from across the crowded field.  I saw my little girl doing exactly what she should be doing:  Having fun.

Today I am grateful for the best Kindergarten teacher ever.  I am grateful for someone who listens and makes changes to ensure that every child is happy.  Today I feel a little bit of relief.

Today I am happy to see my little girl smile…

(My apologies for the lack of pictures in this Project Happy post…Wordpress is working against me.  I won’t let it steal my happy though…)





About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)