A Pocket Full of Courage

The Hobbit started big kids school this year.  He was an old hand at preschool, having spent three years there, but Big Kids School meant a new school, a new teacher, a whole new batch of kids, and just a whole lot of New to adjust to. He had a rocky start.

The first day of school was an orientation, in which 30 kindergarteners, the teacher, three other staff members, two local police officers and about 45 parents, grandparents and/or legal guardians were crammed into one classroom. There was a great deal of anxiety and confusion, for parents and students, and my sensitive little boy had a melt down.  He was the only child who refused to go on the school tour, and I was looking for a wall to beat my head against because here he was starting off the year not knowing where the bathrooms were.  Also, I didn’t want the other kids to think of him as a cry baby and have that stigma stick.  But hey, that was my issue not his.

The Hobbit was allowed to stay with the adults, while 29 other children lined up, got a tour of the school and then went to play on the playground. I think it’s safe to say our school year was not off to an auspicious start.

I didn’t have much hope for a smooth First Day of School and I needed a plan, so I dug out a souvenir from our last trip to Alaska.  There’s a great bookstore in Ketchikan, Parnassus Books, that I love and each time we’ve been there I make a point to visit the bookstore and spend heaps of money.  If you ever find yourself in Ketchikan, Alaska, I recommend you do the same.  But I digress.  On our last visit there, I bought some “coins” and a small storage pouch for them.  The coins are stamped metal, with a Tlingit representation of an animal on one side and the word that the animal is thought to embody on the other. I’m a sucker for things like that:  stones with uplifting words painted on them, positive affirmation cards, etc.  The coins have been in my little treasure box (sentimental treasures, not pirate booty treasures) waiting to be used. Now was the time.

I singled out the “Courage” coin and put it in my purse, hoping I wouldn’t need it, but having it handy just in case I did.

The next morning, I took The Hobbit to school and he did okay right up until we reached the entrance gate, and then all bets were off.  He didn’t want to play with the other kids, he didn’t want to talk to his teacher, he just cried and held onto me.  Oh dear.   He was so scared it was heartbreaking, and I knew just how he felt.

I’d like to say I am the master of my emotions and didn’t cry, because that would have made this story so much better.  However, I am a softie and my baby was scared and crying, so my eyes filled up with tears, too.  I got down on my knees and pulled out the Courage coin.  I told The Hobbit that I knew today was going to be hard for him, that it was scary and new, but I promised him that it was going to be okay, and I had something that would help him.  I showed him the coin and asked him if he knew what courage was?  He shook his head “no” (still crying, poor kid), and I explained that courage was doing what had to be done even when we’re scared.  I showed him the coin with the word “Courage” stamped on it, and I told him that I thought that since he was having such a hard time, that maybe he could use a little bit extra courage today, and so I was giving him some of mine to keep in his pocket so that he could do what had to be done (school) and have the courage to do it.

He took the coin (still crying) and put it in his pocket.  I gave him a hug, told him I loved him, and his teacher, who had been watching our whole exchange, came over and tried to lure him to play with the other kids (still crying), while I told him I would see him in a couple hours (still crying), and I turned and walked out of the playground.  Sob.  Some other parents stayed, for how long, I don’t know, but I thought it important that I leave because I didn’t want me staying to become a habit.  (Shoot, I was already committed to one day a week in the classroom and drive the kid to/from school every day, so I figured four days a week he could do without me for 3 hours.)  I parked down the street from the school and waited for half an hour in case I got a phone call.  We were told that if our child cried for more than 10 minutes, we were getting called to pick them up and take them home.  No call came.

When I picked him up from school that day, I was met with smiles and he proudly handed over the Courage coin.  For the first two weeks, I would stay on the playground each until the bell rang, at The Hobbit’s request.  Usually, he’d drop off his backpack and run off to play without a second glance my way, but I had given him my word, so I would remain until the class lined up.  But on the third week, we were told it was time to cut the apron strings and anyone on the playground would have to sign in with the office and get a visitor’s badge.  I told The Hobbit I wouldn’t be allowed to stay on the playground in the mornings any more.  He asked if he could borrow my courage.

Every morning since, when we get to school, he asks if he can borrow my courage, and I pull the coin out of my wallet for him to keep in his pocket or his backpack.  And every day after school, he returns it to me.  He feels secure knowing he can borrow it any time and head off on his school day with a pocket full of courage, able to face anything that comes his way.

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