For the past five years, I have only been responsible for dropping off the kids and picking them up from school about 10 percent of the time. One of the greatest blessings of our lives is that my husband works from home. So, all the times I was attending classes, or sleeping in from staying up doing homework until 2:00 AM because of said classes, Karl was available to get the kids ready for school and drop them off.
Now, he is the master of their morning routines. He knows exactly how they like their breakfast (Lucy likes the crust cut off her ultra-grain toast and Peter doesn’t like any liquid in his oats), what gets packed in their lunch and more importantly how it all fits in those tiny lunch bags, what time the school bell rings and what time to leave the house in order to make it there beforehand. I can humbly acknowledge this truth today because Karl is out of town and those AM duties have fallen to me. When I have to ask my 8 and 10 year old how to fit all those tupperwares in those tiny bags, I feel a certain amount of shame for being a mother who doesn’t know these things, but in the same breath I feel immense gratitude for a husband who has this corner of our world under control ninety percent of the time.
Somewhere during the ten percent of times I was in charge of the drop off, I discovered that what was important for Lucy early on was a means of transition from home to school.
Leaving the warmth and comfort and security of home when you are five years old is scary! A little one doesn’t know if they can trust that their needs will be met with kindness and consistency; if their teacher will be available to support and encourage them on any given day. So, in order to bridge the divide of preoccupation and fear, we needed to establish a leaving ritual.
From all the baby books I had read before even having children, I gleaned that routines and rituals are important for a child’s sense of safety. Doing the same thing over and over again gives children the sense that they can control their world by predicting it. While I took that advice too literally and didn’t allow enough depth and breath to our daily routines of naps and bedtimes, and wouldn’t recommend similar rigidity, I would, however resoundingly endorse the importance of rituals.
Fortunately, Lucy’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Montes, must have also read the same parenting books as me because on the first day of class she provided us with the inspiration for a leaving ritual that has continued up until this very day. Lucy came home from school with her first K5 art and craft – a tracing of her hand cut out of construction paper with a kiss placed in its palm. I later learned that this was done after reading “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.
The story, in brief, is that little Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. He wants to stay at home with his mom and play with his own friends, his own toys, and read his own books. Mrs. Raccoon explains to Chester that sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do that are strange and scary. But she goes on to tell him that she knows a very old secret that will make his time at school as warm and cozy as home. It’s called, “The Kissing Hand.” Mrs. Raccoon leaves a kiss on Chester’s palm and he closes his hand around it tight. And whenever he misses his mom or thinks of home, he opens his hand, places it on his cheek and magically feels her comfort and warmth.
After I saw Lucy’s craft, and read the story for myself, I committed to intentionally making this our leaving ritual. So, every day before Lucy lined up to go into class, I would put a kiss in her palm, she would make a fist and hold onto it really tightly. And since she is a very literal girl, she thought she might have to hold her hand around it that tightly all day long or it would blow away, so, she quickly learned to put it in her pocket in order to set her hands free for more arts and crafts. And in the event that she didn’t have pockets, she learned to trust that by pretending to put it in a pocket, she could pretend to take it out later in the day and put it to her cheek to feel as warm and cozy, as safe and secure as she does at home.
This morning, because we were running behind since I neither knew how to fit all those tupperwares into their tiny lunch bags, nor knew what time the school bell actually rang, I shuffled them off to line up for class a few minutes late and was preoccupied with getting them where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. But even in the midst of harried rushing, Lucy wouldn’t leave without me placing a kiss in her hand.
She reminded me those rituals that we established over 5 years ago are meaningful. Those little repeated actions remind us of something…sometimes we either forget or don’t have time to acknowledge the verbal something (“Mommy loves you and is thinking of you and wants you to feel warm and comforted”), and just need the shorthand, the ritual, to give us the feeling of the thing we can’t quite remember but know we need it when we get it.