“Back” to school?

Both of my kids have gone back to school now. I say “gone back” because that’s the figure of speech we always use to describe returning to the educational environment and not because they’ve actually, well, gone, anywhere. They, along with my husband and I, have embarked on an online school odyssey of online platforms, zoom meetings, free-range physical education classes, and emails from teachers.

Lots of emails from teachers.

Every club or private activity has gone back to full practices and games, it seems, but schools are not ready for in person learning. This makes some sense as school is a much longer, much more compact setting than a soccer field or a dance studio for a couple hours where everyone has their own box of space and wears a mask.

So we spent the weekend wearing a mask in the 100 degree heat, watching our youngest compete in a soccer tournament.

And reading emails from administrators about how to access the various online portals they’ll be learning through this fall.

We’re so lucky the girls are old enough to largely monitor themselves and their own learning. We’ve settled for spot checks and surprise drop ins of their room to make sure they’re actually signed on to zoom at their regularly scheduled times.

I saw crumbs on the table when I went down to refresh my coffee in between client sessions, so I assume one of them fed themselves lunch of some sort.

This is going to be a seriously open-handed sort of fall. Open hands are how I teach clients to engage with reality acceptance. There are two real ways to approach circumstances that feel overwhelming or big – with an attempt to control the situation, a tight grip on the circumstances and ourselves, or with an open hand, ready to accept what comes and cope with it.

The closed, controlling fist, tries to modify and subdue the environment. To make it fit expectations or pre-conceived ideas about what it “should” be or how we wish it to be. The open hand isn’t steering so much as taking on.

We’re taking on this school year and feel like we’ll cope with problems as they arise. The idea that we can anticipate or plan for the problems that may or may not arise is mind-boggling. We have no way of knowing where this will go off the rails (I’m sure that it will in some way), but we have to assume that we CAN cope with what comes and that we WILL be alright after. Even if we don’t particularly want to cope with the eventual disasters and roadblocks of the unanticipated.

Can is very different from want. But can is what matters when it comes to coping. Because it is the thing that reduces fear of the unknown and allows for a reduction in anxiety. If you believe that you CAN cope with what comes, you don’t need to worry so much about what it might be that will eventually come.

This is a lesson parents learn with increasing urgency as our kids age. We don’t know what they will be or how they will grow, but we know that we can cope with what they become. We will have to accept it and, again as they age, learn that we don’t always get to control what that might be or how they will get there. Kids are their own people and as they become older and wiser and more familiar with themselves, they need us less to reflect and direct them to who they are than they do to accept and support them in being who they are.

I’ll never forget when my oldest was in pre-school. She was quiet and didn’t seem to request or want a large number of playdates. She had a few close friends that she asked to play with regularly, but she didn’t ask for a wide-variety of people and when I would pick her up she would often be playing by herself or with one or two other kids.

I worried.

“She doesn’t have friends,” I would say to my husband. “She’s not happy.”

Despite there being no evidence that she was actually unhappy. She didn’t cry or resist going to school. She never reported any discontent with the friends she played with and talked about them often enough at home. She learned and she engaged.

But I was convinced. She was unhappy. So I did what most-overly involved parents might do. I arranged multiple play dates with other kids in the class. Kids she hadn’t really mentioned or played with from what I’d seen.

She went. She was fine with it, but she wasn’t particularly interested.

Then one day it just hit me. Her happy didn’t look like my happy. I like a large group. I like a wide range of friends and acquaintances. I want to be popular with my peers.

She does not.

She was happy with a few close friends.

I was so busy imposing my version of happy on her that I missed for awhile that she already was. In my quest to make her happy, I was actually causing some unhappiness because she wasn’t really into playing with some of the kids I invited over.

They didn’t have similar styles or interests.

Since then I’ve really worked to see from her perspective. From the perspective of both of my kids. To ask what their happy looks like and to take them at their word. It won’t look like mine because they are not me. But I can cope with almost any kind of happy they like so long as they’re actually HAPPY.

Today, they were pretty happy with school. It doesn’t look like I thought it would and it’s not taking the shape that I would have wished, but so far they’re happy and that’s just going to have to be enough.

If only they’d stop with the emails.

Published by alexm1008

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Houston, Texas. I specialize in helping clients develop skills and strategies to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors. I am also a wife and mother of two who loves to run and travel (particularly to Disney World with my kids and without).

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