Ian started preschool the beginning of February. To be honest, I just wanted and needed some cheap childcare (can I get an amen from any other parents on this one?) I wanted someplace else Ian could go where there was a wholesome, pleasant atmosphere, where he could show & tell his stuff, obey adults, be nice to other kids, run around, and get his craft on. And, I could be with one less kid for a few hours.
Many of you saw the photo on facebook the photo that confirms to the world that Ian loves preschool (and that picture was taken before he even got there on his first day!). I figured he would. I think he was getting a little bored around our house.
I don’t care, at least at this point, about academic rigor, but he is learning some things, particularly about letters and their sounds. And word around preschool town (and from Grandma Becky who’s got the direct line to other grandchildren) that four-year-olds have the ability to write their own name.
Well, Ian doesn’t do that, at least he didn’t (*spoiler alert*). I’ve haven’t cared. I’ve read those lists on Pinterest, the “Everything Your Kids Should Be Able to Do Before They Get to Kindergarten” ones and my half-hearted response has been “Whatever, he’ll get to it.” It’s so shocking hear myself saying this, but this is something I don’t worry about (this category runs small for me).
Well, a week or so ago we were coloring at home (Ian had markers, Imogen was designated to colored pencils. Note: Don’t EVER, EVER give markers to a toddler). Since we had grandma reinforcements, I was feeling more on the confident side, so I casually mentioned to Ian, “When you’re done with that picture why don’t we work on writing your name?”
He was mildly disinterested but said “okay”. So I wrote him an “I” and he tried to copy it. There was a little bit of push back, but it came relatively easy so we went onto “A”. That’s when the back-peddling started. “Nooooooo! I CAN’T DO IT!” This was said over and over, with increasing desperation.
You and I know this is not true. With his duplos, Ian can practically build a miniature-size version of Ludwig’s castle or a Blackbird stealth. And then he can somehow pull both creations together into one self-entertaining epic storyline (which he whispers to himself – did we all do that as a kid or was that just me and now my offspring?).
Back to the name writing thing. By this time, we had moved past frustration. I sensed some tears coming on. I sensed fear.
“My name is too hard to write!” Ian said. Too bad that excuse doesn’t work since we gave him the EASIEST name in the world. When both Grandma and I told him this his response was that he wanted a new name.
I told him he was too young to change his name and besides, Mama had prayed a lot about what his name should be and I felt that God had given Ian his name (it means “God is gracious”). You can’t argue with God. But, for fun I said “Alright, Ian, what would you want your name to be?”
He hesitated a moment and then sheepishly said, “Helga.”
I’m sorry, I laughed. And Grandma laughed. What the heck – Helga?! Besides, that has a “G” in it. If you won’t write a capital “A” good luck writing that one, Ian.
Thankfully, our laughter did not shame him. It actually put the teeniest, tiniest crack of a smile on his face.
So, Ian mustered up the resolve to try an “A”. He tried to copy the “A” I wrote and it was not a bad first attempt at all. It looked a bit more like a crooked, wobbling “H”, but heck, I’d take it. And I praised him for it.
Well, Ian did not like his “A”. In fact, he hated it. He hated that we praised him for it. “It’s NOT PERFECT!”
This is when I went into my time warp. I can’t remember how young I was, but it was pretty young, when I started saying this to myself. And I’ve been saying those words for a long time. I’m still saying them. It has kept me from doing things in life, or it’s imprisoned me into doing them half-heartedly, or just giving up on them altogether. And to be honest, I get angry about it, just like Ian does.
In the midst of my self-revelation, I was able to step outside myself for a moment and realize an invisible door was showing up. As our pastor says, your kids “flash” you, so to speak. They show you what’s really in their heart, past the clenched fists and the evil eye.
I have been told when you see this flash, this invisible door, you leap headlong through it before it shuts in your face. And you pray and hope God shows up and you don’t mess things up. Parents of older children can correct me if I’m wrong on this one (or least give us newer parents tips on how to successfully get through the door and not create dysfunction once inside).
Well, I went in that door. It was double doors, because in actuality, this was just as much about me (maybe even more so) than it was about him. Ian’s resistance shined a bright light; it brought me back to my own fears of things not being perfect. Things HAVE to be perfect, gosh darnit!
I told Ian how there have been so many times I have been afraid to do things because they are hard. I am scared, just like him, that I can’t do it. I thought about all the things I tried as a kid – horseback riding, synchronized swimming, piano lessons, a myriad of art classes, basketball, golf, tennis, choir. Some of these things I wasn’t good at, but some of them I could have been good at. Some of them I was actually kinda good at and maybe, with time and practice, I could’ve been really good at them.
I need to make a side note to say that one of the only things I stuck with is writing. And a degree in English Literature tried to suck that one out of me. But, here I am, and truth be told, all those papers on literary criticism probably made me a stronger writer (and thinker) about life.
And so there Ian was and he listened to my speech and he understood as much as a four-year-old can about how some new things are scary and hard to try, but that God gives strength, and we can be proud of ourselves for trying and completing them, that practice makes us better at them, etc., etc.
And then he finished writing his name. He still got angry when Grandma and I praised him for following through. There were some more protests and slamming of his fists on the table. But he did it. This first attempt was written on the outside of a letter to Grandma T, but here is his second version, written underneath a painting of a big boat hooked up to Grandpa Brad’s red truck.
A few days later I was dropping Ian off at preschool and we were making small talk with one of his teachers. I encouraged Ian to tell Ms. Laurie about the new thing he learned how to do. I had forgotten about the name-writing; I thought he was going to tell her how he’s riding his new two-wheeler (which was a cinch for him to learn), but instead he said “I can write my name now!”
He will always remember when he learned to ride his bike. It will probably be a memory of glorious freedom. But I think in writing his name (at least I hope) he will remember God gives strength and courage to do new things. They don’t have to be perfect the first time, or even ever. And we can start on new things because we know these truths.
And I hope that I sit down at that beautiful piano that was such a wonderful gift to me and I play, even though it scares me. And I write more and sing my heart out in the choir at church on Easter, and get the sewing machine out more than once a year and make something even if the stitch doesn’t come out absolutely perfect.
Thanks, Ian. Thank you, God.