I dropped the girls off for their first day of school. Siena was a little nervous but overall she was excited for first grade. A close friend of Siena’s saw her as we entered the school grounds and grabbed her hand. Her teacher greeted her with a huge hug. I was still at school an hour later talking to a new mom at the school, an American who just moved here from Austin, Texas, a week ago (!!!!) when I saw Siena going on a school tour with her class. She was first in line, giggling and having fun. The first day of first grade seems to be a success!
Jade, on the other hand, was not very happy. As we walked to school, she started saying that she didn’t want to go. She looked like she was about to cry. My heart went out to her but I also worried that showing up for her first day of fourth grade crying might set her up as being viewed as a “baby” by the other kids in the combined fourth and fifth grade classroom. I told her that I understood that she is nervous on her first day of school and that it’s OK to have her feelings but that she might not want to cry if she can help it. When she asked “why?”, I felt awful. I really believe in the importance of expressing feelings appropriately and not holding them in to appear stoic or brave and I have always encouraged my girls to share how they feel. I have told them that it takes more courage to be real than to pretend just so others don’t feel uncomfortable. And here I was telling her not to cry if she could help it!
Colombian culture, like many around the world, definitely teaches kids to hold back their emotions. I still remember Jade telling me during her first month of school that she cried from embarassment when she fell in the lunchroom and the kids all laughed at her after she started crying. She never wanted to go back to school! I was afraid that if she showed up crying on her first day of school, she would be labeled “the baby” and make a negative impression not only on the kids she already knew in her class and hadn’t seem in almost three months but also on the new kids. I wanted to protect her! But on the other hand, I told her to mask how she was feeling to be accepted in a culture that doesn’t like tears, to basically pander to others in order to be accepted. As you can tell, I feel very conflicted about what I said and am not really sure that I made the right call.
Not to mention that Jade cried lightly as she walked up to her classroom anyway. I handed her off to the school director and said goodbye. My heart was breaking as I walked away. I know that the school is a good place and that nothing “bad” is happening to Jade there. I know that this is Jade’s life journey and she is going through whatever she needs to go through to learn and grow at this juncture of her life. I keep telling myself all this. But as a mom, it’s so hard to not be able to fix things for her and make it all better.
On a different note, I am really excited about the new family at school. The mom is American, married to a Colombian and they have a daughter in Siena’s class. I didn’t even realize how much I have missed having someone of my own culture to talk to until we started talking. We talked for almost an hour and a half non-stop! It was so great to finally talk to somebody who is living here and knows this culture somewhat but shares my values and reference points. I have to admit a little part of me was a little disappointed to be out of my all-Colombian bubble, but the rest of me is thrilled to have her to talk to. Plus, it was great that she also asked the school if she could hang out there today, reading a book in the office, just to be there if her daughter needed her. I am now not the only “crazy, overprotective” mom. Strength in numbers!