Thursday, September 6, 2012

First week of school jitters

Walking down the street this morning at 8am I wondered how many children in this city were starting school today, and what the anxiety quotient of the day would be. Figure a million kids, minimum, all beginning something new under the aegis of someone new. Then factor in all the anxious parents. And I suppose there are teachers and administrators who have a bit of agita, too.

It's all mixed, of course, with excitement and hope. But still, I wondered if there's any other day in the year -- terrorist and natural crises excluded -- with a higher cumulative anxiety level.

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I went to the school across the street this afternoon to pick up a friend of Little Guy's, whose mom was picking up the older sister elsewhere. As I walked into the yard the middle school-age kids were being released. One boy I know was glowering; clearly Day One had not gone well at all. I thought of the mom, and of the evening ahead for her. I know what it's like to sense ominous clouds forming, and the groan that goes through a parent's heart when the outlook is not good. That's a hard thing. It could make a parent anxious, you know. With reason.

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Snuggler arrived home from her first academic day exhausted and hungry, with a mere half-hour to relax before heading off to play rehearsal. She finished her homework at 10pm. It probably could have been 9:15, but she lost some time in panic. I counseled that the big lesson this year may very well be learning to talk herself down when she starts to freak out. If you can keep a clear head, a whole lot of things are possible. Figuring out how to stay calm is a life skill you'll need every day of your existence.

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One of the odder things people say to me when they find out that I have five kids is, "But you're so calm!" Well, uh, yes -- I guess so. It's not innate, it's kind of do or die. I mean, who can survive in a constant state of emotional upheaval? At some point there's a T-intersection: either you figure out how to stay calm or you go insane. It's cheaper to stay calm.

Of course I don't feel calm all the time. But I do practice projecting it. Serenity is one of those things like smiling: the more you act happy, the more likely you are to feel that way. (This really is true: if you're feeling stressed you can put a pencil in your mouth sideways to force a smile, and you actually do feel more optimistic.) Appearing unruffled makes a difference. At the very least you don't trigger anxiety in others with your own. And sometimes having just your own domino fall is an excellent thing.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished day 6 with the kids in my public school classroom in Connecticut. During this week my own kids turned 39. I wish they had had the benefits of the wisdom I have gained from teaching OPkids. I stayed home with my own kids until they were nine--but they don't seem to remember that and I still feel guilt for not always being "there"--although I was "there." They are the two best men I know and I thank God every day for that.