To My Lincoln, on Starting Kindergarten
Today I downloaded the school supply list, and I wrote down all the supplies you will need for the year. Tonight, I will go home and dig through your dresser, counting how many pairs of shorts and jeans and t-shirts still fit you after your massive spring growth spurt. Undoubtedly, I will find some leftover relics of a smaller size, some shirts pushed to the back corner that you haven't been able to wear in some time, and I will pull them out and lay them on my lap, smoothing out all those bottom-of-the-drawer wrinkles and seeing an image in my head of the way you looked in that shirt. And it will physically grieve me to move that shirt to the pile of yesterdays, the stack of things to pack away or give away, the fleeting mementos of the days when the tags in your shirts measured your age by months and we called you "the baby."
In a week, you'll be starting kindergarten, and I tell you, my little man, I'm not sure what to make of that. This morning, I did the ugly cry all over the steering wheel on my drive in to work, just thinking of you as a kindergartener. Then, I laughed at my silly old self, then I cried some more.
It's kind of funny, really, how hard this is for me. I'm not a stay at home mom who's struggling with her identity now that her last child has left her days, and her house, a sudden, deafening quiet. We haven't spent the last half decade with you tugging at my apron strings all day. Heck, this isn't even your first year at this school. You've been in preschool in the same building for almost three years now.
But, this is kindergarten. This is the real thing, little man, and somehow it's just different.
I'm not sure I'm ready for you to enter the world just yet because you are still so small and so fragile, and I still slip and call you "the baby" sometimes. Every year of your life that passes, spiraling so fast that neither of us can catch it, is a reminder of how fast you will be gone, how soon you will no longer be mine to raise and hold and sing to sleep at night. It's a strange thing to love someone who is constantly becoming less yours. It's a strange thing to be in a relationship where, every year, the object of your affection moves farther and farther away from you. Needs you less. Wants more time on their own and is actively building a life not based on you even while you can do nothing but build a life based on them.
And it's a strange thing to be charged with caring for a person, hardly feeling like more than a child yourself some days, and realize that the tiny little person you are trying to protect is going to have to live in the same world you do. The same mixed up, often confusing, sometimes cruel, angry, violent world you live in. Ah, son, I wish we'd gotten it in better shape before I had to send you out in it, but this is the world you and I have to live in. There's nowhere else, not in this life, and so we'd better get used to the idea of you living out in it.
And baby, I can't make any promises about what this world will be like for you because, yes, some people may be cruel some of the time. But also maybe the world really is changing, and maybe more and more people had mammas who raised them right, who will know how to be kind and look for the good in other people and make friends with people who aren't just like themselves. And I hope you know that I wish I could protect you from the bad ones, but the only way I could protect you from the danger that people can present would be to hide you away from all people forever, and that would be its own kind of punishment. Just ask Rapunzel.
The last few years, I have read this letter written by a woman named Glennon Melton. It's a personal letter about her experience with a boy named Adam that she went to school with, a boy who was different from her and who she missed knowing because she was too preoccupied with how different he seemed. Now that Glennon has learned from her mistake, she reads this letter about Adam to her children every August at the beginning of the school year. A few years ago, she shared her letter with the world, and now there are a lot of other moms and dads who read this letter to their children every year, too.
So every year now I read this letter, too, and think of you.
See the thing is, though you don't understand this yet, to some people, you will be Adam. And Lord how I pray that millions and millions of parents are reading their children letters like this and teaching them how different doesn't mean worse and how you never know where you might find a remarkable friend.
But I know, just because I've been in this world longer than you have, that some kids aren't ever getting read letters like that. And their mammas and daddies are using words full of hate, words that they will pick up soon if they haven't already. I know that some kids won't understand how to treat an Adam, and they will say or do things that hurt you.
I know that some kids will look at you and just see Down syndrome. They won't see how you are funny and kind and intense and loyal and independent. They won't know how to see all of those things because they have been taught, in so many direct and indirect ways, that the differences they see in you are the biggest, most important things about you. I'm sorry that you may meet people who haven't learned how to treat others with kindness and respect. I pray, more than you will ever know, that the number of those people is small and getting smaller everyday. But, to some people, you will be like Adam was to Glennon.
And here is the rub. They are Adams, too, in a way that they won't ever quite understand. Because what matters to people like that is being cool, being accepted, being powerful or popular or receiving enough attention and appreciation to try and fill the hole of emptiness inside them.
But to us, what matters is being kind and genuine, being honest about who we are and seeing how we are fundamentally so much like everyone else down where it really matters. What matters to us is taking care of our fellow humans, serving people in love and humility, always trying to leave this world better than we found it. So in a way, people who are cruel and exclusive and uncaring are Adams to us because they just don't fit in with what we believe is important. And those kinds of Adams deserve our love, patience, and understanding just as much as we deserve theirs.
I'm not going to say it will always be easy, learning to live with those kind of Adams, learning to treat them with understanding and forgiveness. I think we'll have to learn that part together.
I know you don't understand any of this yet. For now, your world is full of a million little adventures, full of stories and music and laughter. And the good news is, despite some of the bad parts of this world and despite some of the Adams you may meet, your life will always be full of little adventures. It can always be saturated with stories and music and laughter, if you want it to be. That's the great part about kindergarten, the part I both love and fear, that it is just the beginning of you going out into the world and making your own life.
So go out there and get started. Have a great year in kindergarten. Go ahead and get started on the rest of your life. I love you.