Fresh Starts

crayons

It’s back-to-school time in my community and in so many others around the country.  Teachers, students, and parents have been preparing for weeks.  Teachers are returning with renewed passion thanks to summer training and summer rest.  Students are returning, reluctantly perhaps, excited about new school clothes and reuniting with friends.  And parents.  You’ve seen them on television ads and social media.  They skip joyously through the school supply aisles, meet in the driveway for a mimosa toast, and perform celebratory dances as the school bus pulls away on the first day.  It’s a fresh start for everyone.

There is one group of parents you won’t see skipping, toasting, and dancing, however.  Those are the kindergarten moms.  Those moms are fighting back tears, lingering too long in the hallway, and worrying about everything from new friends (or lack thereof) to the complexities of navigating the lunch line.

My mom was one of those.

When we entered my kindergarten classroom for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the sights and sounds before me.  There were children everywhere, more than I had ever seen in one place.  The perimeter of the room was lined with bins of blocks, crayons, scissors, paste, workbooks, and packages of paper.  OH!  The paper!  Paper with lines.  Paper without lines.  White paper.  Colored paper.  Manila paper.  So much paper!  I was giddy with the possibilities awaiting me in kindergarten.  I turned and waved at Mom.

Mom was not giddy.  In kindergarten terms, she was sad.  She expected me to be shy, reluctant, clingy, my normal approach to anything or anyone new.  She expected tears, mine as well as hers.  Instead, she got a wave and this cheerful announcement: “You can go now!”  That was almost 50 years ago.  She’s over it now.  I think.  But she still tells the story when conversations turn to kindergarten.

I never stopped loving school, especially those first days when everything is new and possibilities are endless.  We are lucky that the calendar provides us with many other opportunities for fresh starts.  In January we start anew with grandiose plans for all kinds of improvements.  We all start a new year of our very own on our birthdays.  For some, each new month is a time to review progress and begin again.  And Mondays!  We don’t usually look forward to them, but you have to admit, they provide us with 52 fresh starts each year.

You may not realize it, but you can have a new beginning at any time.  Just call it.  The same way you call, “Shotgun!” or “Not it!”  Try it.  “Fresh start!”  Tell others so they can try it too.  It really works, even for kindergarten moms!

If you are an educator or a student, I wish you the very best this year can bring.  If you are a kindergarten mom, I wish you an extra measure of grace until you are able to dance behind the school bus.  For everyone, I wish you fresh starts, new stuff, and endless possibilities.

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Affirmations

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was pretty, I would have exactly one dollar.  Thanks, Mom.  –as seen on Facebook

This quote reminds me of my mom, except it’s really the opposite of my mom.  When I was growing up, little girls wore dresses pretty much everywhere except to play.  Any occasion was a dress-up event, and I was always decked out, frequently in dresses my mom had made.  I loved those dresses and was so proud to wear them, especially when I had helped pick out the pattern and the fabric.  When I got in the car after school or church or a birthday party, my mom never failed to ask, “Did they tell you how pretty you are?”

Fairly often, the answer was yes.  Lots of people admired those pretty dresses.  Sometimes, though, no one mentioned my appearance.  When the answer was no, Mom always replied, “Well, those crazy people!”

People don’t dress up much anymore, at least not the way we did when I was a child.  Dresses are no longer expected, much less required.  I still enjoy wearing pretty dresses, though.  I wear them to church and to the theater and other special places.  When I’m dressed up and feeling especially pretty, I like it if someone notices.  If they don’t, I just think, Those crazy people!

It may seem like arrogance, but that’s not the case at all.  It isn’t about being a “diva” or thinking I’m better than anyone else.  It’s more like an affirmation in reverse, a way to call up strength and confidence.  It has served me well, and I have generalized its use to other qualities beyond my appearance.  If someone doesn’t recognize my value in any given situation (you know, like group projects in school or committees at work), Well, those crazy people!

I know I’m fortunate to have a mother who thinks I’m pretty, smart, and worthy of her love and attention.  Not everyone has that.  BUT, I think any one of us can create a similar influence on those around us, and if need be, we can do the same for ourselves.

If you’re old enough, you might remember Stewart Smalley from Saturday Night Live.  This Al Franken character hosted a talk show called “Daily Affirmations.”  His opening always included this now famous affirmation: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! Although Stewart Smalley was a parody meant to make fun of an emerging mental health movement, his words are valuable and timeless.

It’s difficult to think about affirmations without hearing the voice of Viola Davis, “You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.”  In The Help, Davis’s character, Aibileen, knew how necessary it was for Mae Mobley to grow up knowing her worth.  She also knew no one else was going to guide Mae in that direction, so she took it upon herself.  We can do the same for those around us.

My friend, Edna, is good at showing others how important they are.  Her morning greeting might sound something like, “Good morning, Ida, Princess of the Rising Sun!”  I have to admit, this usually elicits an eye roll from me.  It’s a little too early for such exuberance in my opinion.  She is not discouraged, however.  She simply prompts the “correct” response from me, and I repeat it dutifully, “Good morning, Edna, Goddess of the Fading Moon!”  The day begins with both of us feeling like royalty.  Who couldn’t use a start like that?

So, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was pretty?  I might have more money than I have right now, but it doesn’t matter.  Either way, my life is rich.

If you need an affirmation for yourself or to pass along to someone else, feel free to borrow one from this post.  If you have an affirmation that works for you or that was taught to you by someone special, please share it in the comments.  It’s always good to spread the wealth.