As we round the bend into a new school year, my kiddo is 2 years and some change old. Twenty-seven months post-delivery, it’s just now starting to feel like my son has been around for longer than I was pregnant. I felt like those 40 weeks took about 2 years to get through (how do elephants do it?!), yet now that my little miracle is here, it seems like I blinked, and somehow my squishy little bologna loaf of a newborn has morphed into a big boy ready to head off to preschool.
My son’s upcoming launch into the hallowed halls of pre-academia have launched me on a little adventure of my own, a nostalgic roller coaster of emotions down memory lane of my own school days. Growing up, I was what might be kindly described as a ¡°late bloomer.¡± I felt painfully awkward as a child—chubby, outspoken and a full head taller than my peers. I preferred the company of adults over the hurtful taunts of my schoolmates, a self-imposed isolation that only exacerbated my feelings of being on the outs.
It wasn’t until I hit my 30s that I started to feel right-sized in my own skin. Perhaps I’m an old soul and have finally hit my stride, but I think the more likely explanation is that life can be scary as a little kid. Each new school year brings new classmates, new challenges, new circumstances. And frankly, the world’s a bit scarier for kids these days than when I was in school. I remember cowering under my desk during tornado drills, certain that my demise from a whirly spiral of wind was bound to come any day. It feels almost quaint to remember that anxiety when my teacher pals share with me their tips for keeping kindergartners silent during an “armed intruder” drill. My heart chills even thinking about it.
In between scouring the web for the perfect Star Trek backpack (once a nerd, always a nerd) for my budding bookworm, I’ve been trying to squelch the temptation to project onto my son the lingering queasiness I feel when I remember elementary school, and the terror I feel when I think of dangers far darker than a playground bully. As much as I hated the social drama of school lunch hour, I loved the actual school part of school. I used to start pestering my mom in mid-June to go school supply shopping. I would fastidiously organize and re-organize my shiny new school supplies for months and stay up tossing with excitement the night before the first day back. This same infectious love of learning is what I want my son to feel each day as he heads off, eager to make new discoveries and expand his horizons.
Forget helping them ace tests and strive for perfect attendance—our top priorities should be giving our young scholars a sense of unlimited possibility for a new year and an unshakable safe harbor as they navigate the choppy waters of a fresh start. We must remind them—again and again and again—that we are limited only by the scope of our imaginations, and what¡¯s impossible today can become possible tomorrow.
I¡¯m writing this month’s column the day after five policemen were gunned down following back-to-back shootings of black men by law enforcement officers. Not one news article or think piece I’ve read fails to mention Baltimore. We are sending our children into a world hurting for justice in a city continuing to reel from 300 years of exploitation and inequality. We don’t have the dubious luxury of shielding our kids from the Big Bad World. Instead, we must hold them close, hug them tight and share with them this incredibly good news: They can play a role in changing it.
What’s most needed in a world so desperate for new solutions to scary problems is a generation unafraid to face them head on. And we parents are the ones who can—who must—shape them. Courage, faith, ingenuity, determination; these are not qualities that can be learned from textbooks or worksheets. These are attributes and values we must live, day in and day out, if we want our children to become the bold, innovative leaders of tomorrow they have the potential to be.
None of this is easy stuff. No way can we do this solo. We can’t demonstrate to our children ways to live out our highest ideals without a wide net of fellow parents, extended friendship and family networks and loving teachers. Raising kids is a full-contact team sport. Luckily, among Charm City’s many charms are the incredible residents that call Baltimore home. Our city is blessed with legions of parents, teachers, faith community leaders, activists and civic officials all pulling for the same win. We all want to see our children grow and thrive in a world better than the one we inherited, and pass on to them lessons to help them build an even brighter future for their offspring.
This isn’t easy, but it is possible. This year, as we’re packing our little ones’ lunch boxes, let’s talk to them about the ways they can be good friends, good neighbors. Let’s demonstrate civic engagement with the same enthusiasm we have when cheering them on at soccer practice. Let¡¯s find little ways to get involved in projects that have the possibility to change our city in big ways.
Let’s make this the year we start to get it right.