I first posted this two years ago, when Isaac was going into first grade. But I want to post it today for anyone who is starting anything new, whether that’s school, or a job, or a marriage, or any new stage of life that is inviting you to simultaneously hold things close and let things go.
In it together!
Even though you insist you’ve been a first grader ever since the last day of Kindergarten, today is the day it officially begins. So on your first day of first grade, I want you to know a few things, straight from your dad:
You are brave. Remember the time that you accidentally locked mommy out of the house while the hot water was filling up in the sink to heat up your brother’s bottles? Remember how you got the chair, turned off the water, and opened the door all by yourself, even though you were only three? Even though you were crying the whole time? You did it. At school, there will be times when you have to do things even when you’re not sure how to do them, and you may feel like crying. You may even cry! And that’s okay. I want you to know that I have seen you be brave, over and over again. So even when you don’t feel brave, your daddy says that you are brave.
You are kind. You probably won’t believe this, Isaac, but I was shy in first grade. I stuttered really badly. That means it was hard for me to start talking, and even when I got started, my words got all jumbled up; they got stuck somewhere in between my mind and my mouth. It was hard for me to be confident when I started new things, like school or sports. It was especially hard when people made fun of me because I stuttered. Isaac, I’ve seen you be such a good friend to Emmaus, Cai, and especially your brothers. Would you look out for kids who stutter, or who look a little different, or who seem like they’re having a hard time making friends? Would you be kind to them? You don’t have to try really hard; just be you, and that will be enough.
There is no outside of inside. Isaac, you are in my heart, and there is nothing you will ever say, think, or do that will change that. I’m sure you will do fine at school all day, but when you get home, you might get a little cranky. Or maybe even a lot cranky. Let me tell you a secret: that’s what we all do. It’s hard out there. Home is where we can be ourselves after trying hard out there all day. We get cranky around the people who love us the most because home is where we feel safe. I want you to know that when you are with me, you are home. You are safe. You can show up how you actually are, cranky and all. I love you, end of story. And because there’s no outside of inside, even when you’re not with me, you’re still home, because you are in my heart.
There are lots of kinds of smart. Isaac, when I was a kid, I wasn’t that great at school. There were lots of kids who did better than me on tests. I wasn’t the first person to learn how to read. I still remember the lump in my throat when I didn’t do well, even though I tried hard. So let me be the one to tell you, Isaac: there are lots of kinds of smart. Some kids are really smart at numbers. Some are smart at words. Some are smart at solving problems. Some are smart at friendship. Some are smart at helping people. And some are smart at creating things, like paintings or pottery. You are smart, Isaac, and we’re going to help you figure out what kind of smart you are.
And the last one is a tough one. But here it is: My job is not to protect you from hard things, it’s to launch you out into this great big world, so that you can play your part in great Big Story. This means that sometimes, you’ll make mistakes. You might not make the team. You might try to make friends with people who reject you. When those things happen, I hope I’m the first person you want to talk to. I’ll cry with you. Isaac, this is so hard for me. I’d much rather do anything and everything to make sure you don’t fail or get hurt. But you need to fail, and even get hurt sometimes, because that’s how you’ll learn how to be a person who brings great things to this world. Only those of us who have suffered a little know how to really help.
So, Isaac, my beautiful, strong son: have a great first day of first grade. I’ll be waiting for you when you get home.