Getting ready to head back to school sometimes feels like running a race. Last minute details to take care of...getting that back pack, finding the right pair of shoes, or getting all the items on the school supply list. It can be overwhelming to the whole family. Multiply that by all the families in San Francisco who have children heading back to school today, and you have a city full of excited people getting ready for the new school year.
Today, August 19, 2013 is the first day of school for children and families of the San Francisco Unified School District Just so you know, the last day is May 30, 2014. If you are one of the many families in the 8th largest school district in California who will be getting your children off to their first day of school, you’re probably already exhausted. And if you are one of the thousands of teachers, teacher aides, school staff, and playground and program support staff, this is a big day for you as well.
For those who can hardly wait for that first vacation day, you don’t have long to wait. September 2, Labor Day, is the first official school holiday for this school year. October 14, a big holiday on the East Coast, is renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Dia de la Raza, and is an official day off for SFUSD. November 11, Veteran’s Day and November 27-29, Thanksgiving Recess, and December 23, 2013-January 3, 2014, Winter are days you want to mark on your calendar and set aside as time for your own family plans.
In January we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday on January 20, and this year we celebrate the Lunar New Year on January 31.
When most of us grandparents were growing up, February meant two days off for President Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, and George Washington’s birthday on February 22. If by chance the birthday fell on the weekend, then we would only get one day off. Now all the birthdays of all the presidents are honored on President’s Day which falls on February 17 next year. Now most major holidays are movable feasts, changing to take advantage of the nearest weekend.
Spring Break, which may seem a long way off now, starts on March 31 (also Cesar Chavez Day) and continues through April 4. Then there is a long stretch through April into May before the Memorial Day holiday, May 26. By that time, you will have just four more days until summer break, 2014 begins.
The cycle of life for many of us, revolves around the academic calendar. Even though I no longer go by the calendar with my own work, the habits I formed around the late-summer to June calendar still affect me. Rather than making plans beginning at New Years or the end or beginning of the fiscal year, my plans revolve around when my granddaughter is heading off to school. This morning I was up at 5:00 AM thinking about how she’s doing on her first day of 2nd grade. No doubt, she’s probably not even awake yet, but the excitement I feel about her getting ready for school, has me up before the crack of dawn. Over the last week , we have had conversations about which back pack she chose for her new year (zebra striped I hear), what outfit she and Mom had set out for today, who this year’s teacher might be. Starting school is an exciting time for everyone, and it is a time to remember what really matters.
Our children and grandchildren are with us for a very short period of our lives. We are fortunate to be able to be with them at a time in their lives when we can still provide positive and loving support, good role models, and a mindful, kind, and loving presence in their lives. Whether we get to walk them to school on the first day, drive our children and their friends to an after school practice or game, or volunteer some time on the playground, at recess, or in the lunch room, or make a phone call or Skype visit this evening to see how their first day went, we all can do something to show our children and grandchildren our support.
Start the year off with a promise to yourself to keep communication open between your grandchildren and children. Write letters, postcards, or send a weekly email message. Phone or Skype regularly if you live at a distance, and if you are fortunate enough to be able to visit during the school year, schedule your trips so that you support your children and grandchildren at times when they may need your help more than others. Ask your children what they need in the way of support and help, and then be willing to abide by what they tell you. For those who live near your grandchildren, find ways to maintain a regular presence in their lives while you can.
Ask open-ended questions that allow your grandchildren and children to share their thoughts, feelings and experience of school. For example, “Tell me about your day today,” or “What was the best part of your day?” Encourage children to write about their experiences, and to use art to express their thoughts and feelings. For many children who may be less verbal, drawing, painting, and writing can be excellent ways to encourage self expression. And pay attention to how you respond to their ideas. Avoid being judgmental when you ask a child their opinion. If you want a child (or anyone for that matter) to maintain an open and honest relationship with you, allow them to have their own opinions and view point. We can teach our lessons in morality, behavior, and ethics through our behavior and our relationships with one another, to our own work and sense of fair play, and through our interactions with one another. When we jump into a conversation with a child and judge or criticize them, we close off the doors to good communication. Our children and grandchildren are less likely to listen to anything we have to say if we are not walking our own walk....doing what we tell our children to do , behaving in a way that we have said is kind, loving, and fair. We all learn by doing, and when we are treated fairly, lovingly, and kindly, we tend to treat others the same way. The lovely adage, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” can be applied throughout life, and can be translated into any language. It is a universal message that is based on the idea that we can expect to be treated as we treat others. The lessons inherent in living according to this ideal do not end when we reach adulthood; in fact they apply just as much as we grow and age as they did when we were children ourselves.
Let us start this new school year, children, parents, grandparents, teachers, all school staff and crews, with a promise to treat one another with greater kindness, with more respect, and with compassionate and loving hearts. Let’s slow down a little, take some of the pressure off ourselves to “do it right” or “get everything done” and simply enjoy the wonderful opportunity we have to support our children who enter the classroom today to participate in the process of learning and growing. Let us do what we can to support our grandchildren and our children who give so much so that their children can have the best education, the best experiences, and the best lives that they possibly can have.
While the school experience is an important part of each child’s life, the support and love of family and the freedom to experience, learn, and explore the world are equally important. And if it all feels too much, as it surely does sometimes, remember that our time with our children was all to short, and our time with our grandchildren is as well. We grandparents can opt out of the experience, or we can provide the steady, constant support that not only our grandchildren need but also our adult children need. That support depends on what they need, however, not what we might wish to impose or add. Let us be thoughtful and understanding, providing what encouragement, affirmation, and love we can especially during those moments when the pressure is on them.
As I write I think of my daughter and granddaughter, my friends who are mothers, teachers, and grandparents. Every one of them is working hard and doing their utmost to make their children and their grandchildren’s lives, and in some cases, their own students lives, the top priority in their lives. To them I say, “Great job!” You are to be commended for caring so deeply and putting so much effort into taking your role as a parent, grandparent, teacher seriously. Take time to get enough rest yourself. When you are overwhelmed, exhausted, or perplexed about a situation, slow down, take a deep breath, and practice being mindful. Take a short walk or nap. Stop and make yourself a cup of tea or take yourself to the library, a museum, or a walk along the Embarcadero. Get some perspective, and then go back to what has to be done with fresh eyes. Stay in the present as much as possible, and remember, you have your children at this age for a very short period of time, in their lives and in yours. Appreciate and be thankful for the opportunity you have to share in one another’s lives right now.
Give your children and grandchildren the gift of your support, love, and presence, and release them from your expectations and worries. They will be fine, if you are.
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”
― Albert Einstein
I want to add a special word for the families, students, teachers, principal, Miss Young, and staff of Yick Wo Elementary School who are starting the year at a temporary new location while the school undergoes some much-needed renovation. The move required a lot of work for everyone, and we wish you all a great year in your temporary location. May you have an exceptional year and enjoy a smooth and peaceful transition. Great job so far, and have a wonderful year.