Lessons from Our Year of Pre-K

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(Lecciones de Nuestro Año de Prekínder)



As summer is winding down and we start to get ready for Kindergarten, I've been thinking a lot about our previous school year and what a ride it was - for both Coen and I! As I mentioned on "Prepping for Pre-K," I unconsciously approached getting Coen ready for his first school year like a project, thanks to my project management background. Phase 1 ("Discovery/Plan/Purchase") was quite straightforward as we chose a school and got all the logistics/paperwork done. On "Prepping for Pre-K" I focused on Phase 2 ("Implementation/Integration"), when I dedicated time with Coen to do "learning time" last Spring and Summer, and I planned/purchased what we needed as we approached his first day of school. I shared how right before we had Coen's first day of school, God showed me that all the of my [excessive and obsessive] planning and prepping was my own way of with dealing with fear and anxiety. Instead of resting in Him, I was trying so hard to have control and create a sense of security when I faced such uncertainty. I wish I could say that it was an easy year after learning that important lesson, but today I'll share with you some of the lessons I learned during this challenging yet rewarding first year of school!

Unmet Expectations

Before school started, I had some general ideas and expectations of what Pre-K was going to be like. Since I was born and raised in Honduras until I was 18, I resorted to guesstimating and using my own school experience to come up with a sense of reference. Many of those expectations didn't quite hit the mark, affecting me more than I could have imagined. Here are a few of those [unrealistic, misguided, and/or naive] expectations:

Expectation: Knowing that Coen had only been at home or with friends up to this point, I expected him to have a hard time adapting at first. I figured that "hypercare" (i.e. time of transition and resolving immediate issues after a project launches) would last a few weeks, maybe a month or so tops. Once that (hopefully short) time of transition was done, we would then finally make it to Phase 3 ("Support/Maintenance") of our project, when he would start having more good days than bad days on a regular basis.

Reality: We worked on behavior issues ALL year long, especially the first semester. He did not miss me or being home as much as I thought he would, but he had several other areas of improvement all year long. Even though I knew that every kid adapts to school in their own way and own time, or so I was told many times during this past year, it was still so hard. At many times, I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, at least not in the way and timing I had expected!


Expectation: Since I was a good student all of my academic career, I always expected and wanted my own kiddos to do so as well. I hoped that my own sense of academic excellence and drive, would also be present in them.

Reality: If something is not a game or something that Coen considers fun/worthwhile, he is not interested in it. School and learning apparently fall in the boring category for Coen (ha!), so he usually has close to zero self-motivation when it comes to traditional learning. He's very intelligent, yet it has to be about something he cares about (e.g. dinosaurs, animals, etc.) for him to pay attention and try his best. This has been one of the hardest unmet expectations of motherhood in general!

This year [painfully] stretched me to think more like him so I could understand him, all while still finding ways to push/motivate him to do his work when he didn't want to. Most of the first semester he didn't want to do his work at school; we would get empty or scribbled worksheets, so I'd sit with him after school and practice writing his name. I knew I didn't HAVE to, it wasn't homework since it was just Pre-K, yet I still wanted him to try. Thankfully, by the end of the year (with the help of his teachers, daily behavior chart, trying new things at home, incentives, etc.) he was finally doing his work at school!

I also learned and accepted the possibility of him never wanting to learn the typical school stuff just because, but that he does has the ability to do it and do it well - with the right motivation. We're still learning how to motivate him, but he has matured and grown so much in one year!


Expectation: Being such a social boy who loves to be around people all the time, I expected Coen to make friends easily.

Reality: Coen wanted to play with his classmates as I expected, but he didn't make friends the way I had hoped. I know this is typical stuff all kids have to learn, but I just didn't expect my kid to be "that kid" that others didn't want to play with. The first few times we visited his school or attended events with his classmates, we heard complaints about Coen from his peers (that he didn't listen, he called them names, he bothered them, etc.). I was not prepared to hear that, especially the time I heard a little girl talking bad about him right in front of Coen and I. I get it, they're just kids, but when it's YOUR KID, it hurts… a lot! It broke my heart to see the kids that Coen called "his friends" actually didn't like him back like he thought. We worked with him at home and even role-played with him to show him how his behavior actually came across to others; he usually was being silly and just wanted their attention, but it translated to bothering them. I prayed daily for God to give Coen grace before his classmates and teachers, and for him to find friends that actually enjoyed being with him. Thankfully, by the end of the year he made some friendships that were real and reciprocal, and I'm grateful for them and their parents!

Failure and Pride:

All of my unmet/wrong expectations lead to a terrible feeling of personal failure. I felt alone as other parents raved about their kids' achievements and good transition to school life, all while it seemed like we were barely progressing. Even though I was told many times that every kid is different and everyone learns at a different pace, it didn't really help. Nothing seemed to comfort me and relieve those feelings of failure. How could MY KID not excel at school? Me, someone who did great at school, who gave a speech at Kindergarten, High School, and College graduations. MY KID couldn't even follow instructions or behave at school. I kept asking myself, "how is this possible?"!

On top of feeling like I had failed, I also started to worry about what people were going to think. People knew me as a good student, good employee, good community member, and so on, and here my kid was misbehaving, beating up (I'm exaggerating - sort of! Ha.) and disrespecting others like I was not teaching him better. If I had not been trying SO HARD to teach him respect, good manners, and to love God/others, then maybe it wouldn't have hurt so much!

Did you notice how many times I used "my" or "me" in the paragraphs above? It was at this moment when God was like "ah ha! It's not about YOU or what others think about YOU!" Even though a good friend of mine had told me she had learned the hard way to not associate her kiddos' shortcomings/errors with her own success/failure, I was doing just that! I felt like I was failing at this school thing (not just Coen), and it hit me right on my ego and pride. It wasn't until then that I was able to start letting my guard down and humbling myself before God. Slowly and through a lot of prayer/scripture, God started to help me make the switch from comparison and failure, to championing and empowering Coen - but now for his own good and not for what others would think of either of us!

Anger:

I wrote "Be Slow to Anger" last Fall, when I was struggling with our school experience. Growing up, anger was deeply rooted thanks to my personality and childhood experiences. When I moved away for college, that anger seemed to go away. From the time I was in college until I had kids, I'd get mad here and there, but it wasn't a raging fire inside of me like the anger I knew as a kid and teen. When Coen hit the "terrible twos" (and terrible threes and terrible fours!), his strong-willed personality started to come out. His behavior and defiance, met with my stressed and drained emotional/physical state at that time, was the "right" formula for my raging anger to flare up again.

When school started and he would misbehave day after day, which felt never-ending at the time, my anger started to grow again. I remember driving to go get him from school and telling myself that I wouldn't get angry no matter how he had behaved that day, but when he would get in the car and tell me that he had hit/kicked/spit/called names/etc., it was like a burning flame that would burn inside me and I'd get so angry! That anger and disappointment would sadly ruin the rest of my day. This happened day after day for quite a while.

I clearly had not gotten over anger when I left Honduras, like I thought; I had simply buried and ignored it. When you put things off and don't resolve them at the root, they'll come back up - it's just a matter of time. I'll be completely transparent and tell you that my anger was not fully resolved when I wrote "Be Slow to Anger" last Fall - it was just the beginning of the journey. It made me be more aware of my own anger/irritability triggers, some not even related to Coen or the kiddos! The more I practiced what I shared on the blog post and the more I filled my mind with God's word, the more patience I started to have on a daily basis. When you ask God for patience and grace instead of anger, it doesn't mean that God will magically make it happen overnight. Pre-K for me was like an "anger bootcamp," where God continually taught me to intentionally leave anger and CHOOSE patience and grace, especially when I didn't feel like it!

Most of the first semester, including Christmas break, was hard. I don't know much growth I made over my anger, but I kept trying day after day. By the second school semester, I was making more progress but I still couldn't understand the "why" of my deep anger. I kept asking God, "why am I SO easily angered?" I remember being at church one Sunday when our Pastor shared about a time where he was very irritable and bitter, and how he realized that he was actually angry AT God for a loss in his family. It made me ask myself, "God, am I mad at you? Is it that why my anger is still here?!" I couldn't come up with an answer then, but I kept thinking about it for days. I finally realized that in a way I was actually angry and frustrated for having a son that felt "difficult" to raise, similar to how I was labeled as a kid. It took me so long and so much work to "be done" with my own "difficult" childhood, and I had hoped that my own kiddos would not be that way (*more on this on my next point below*)!

Realizing that there was more to my anger than just my temperament and the experiences that I had already processed/dealt with, it helped me resolve it with God; it was like I had found the missing piece to my anger puzzle and my chains were finally broken! Does it mean I don't have bad days where I'm short-tempered with the kiddos anymore? No, but they are not as intense and more far in between!

My kiddos have already seen me lose my temper for so long, I know that this negative modeling has already made an impact. Coen gets angry easily and is emotionally intense like me, but instead of getting even more mad like I used to, I now try to see it as an opportunity to teach him to manage his emotions like I wish I had learned at that age. It's still a learning process for both of us, but I'm thankful for God's forgiveness and grace throughout this whole year!

Closure of My Own Childhood:

Dealing with Coen, whom I felt was a "difficult" child for me to raise, brought all the pain and hurt from my own difficult childhood like I mentioned above. I'll share more details on future posts, but for this post's sake, know that I was always labeled as the strong-willed and difficult child of my family, and even of my extended family in some matters. Coen's defiance and stubbornness tends to trigger my own strong-willingness, and we have butted heads since he was two years old or so. Just like with my anger, feelings of rejection and negative labels started to come back up as now I had to deal with my own "difficult" child.

As the school year went on and I still couldn't see much progress with Coen, I kept looking for new ways to help him or new reasons as to why he was behaving that way. One night as I was researching books and who knows what else, Whit and I had a key conversation. I was telling him about what I was finding and how I was even starting to consider homeschooling (shocking, I know!) to make a more creative and flexible learning environment for him. Whit stopped me and asked me if I thought Coen was "broken" because I was talking about him like there was something WRONG with him. I had not considered that until then! I didn't consciously think that, but my words and approach to the whole thing said otherwise. I had personally been considered different and difficult my whole childhood, which I hated and it damaged me in so many ways, and yet I was unconsciously doing the same thing to Coen! It made me look at my past in new ways and finally figure out some unresolved feelings/experiences. Like I mentioned in the Anger section, I was frustrated and angry that I had a "difficult" child of my own, yet now I know that it was blessing in disguise! Understanding Coen and learning to change my mindset from treating him like a "difficult" or "different" kid to finding ways that work for his own personality, has brought me more closure than I could have ever imagined. I want to treat him the way I wish I had been treated when I was his age, instead of trying to conform or contain him to be like everyone else!


These are only a few of all the lessons and experiences we went through this past year. I write this knowing that not everyone will understand it, and some may even think that I took it too personally or it shouldn't have been such a big deal. I'm sharing it anyway because it's not only therapeutic for me, but also because I hope it helps someone out there going through similar things. When I was struggling this year, I felt so alone and didn't know many people who were struggling like me; either they experienced it differently than me or maybe their kids didn't have the same issues at school. It's one thing for a random person to tell you that "things will be ok," but when someone who has gone through it with their own kids tells you the exact same thing, it means so much more! I wrote about finding community during this school year for Flourish Motherhood's next magazine issue (I'll link it when it releases later this year), but know that finding fellow moms to vent to and get encouragement from made such a difference for me. Feeling like someone else understands your pain and struggle not only validates your feelings/experience in a way, but it gives you hope for your own future. I know that God placed these ladies in my life at the right time, and for that I'm so grateful!

This was a long post, so if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope that, whether you have kids or not, God can use my story of brokenness and redemption to encourage and challenge you in your own personal relationship with Him! Life can be hard at times, but even in times of despair, there is Hope if you turn to God. He will be your strength, your joy, and everything else you're lacking!



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Coen's backpack on the title photo:
Kids Waterproof Backpack (color "Blue with Reflector")





(Lecciones de Nuestro Año de Prekínder)

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