“This is the buddy bench,” the two newly minted kindergarteners told me.
My son and his friend, Maeve, went on to explain the bright blue bench sitting in the middle of the playground. “It’s if you don’t have someone to play with or you are feeling sad you sit on the buddy bench and then someone will come help you.”
Already particularly emotional that day, and it being my first time on lunch duty in Elementary School, I couldn’t help but feel my eyes swell over with tears and a large lump form in my throat. I looked around and saw one small girl crying on a step, three friends around her trying to comfort her. I saw one bigger boy take a big fall during a kickball game, rolling on the ground in tears, friends around him to help him up. My heart broke at the thought of no one to play with. Tucker and Maeve went on to climb the jungle gym while I sat with my thoughts.
A moment later, they were back, and at the same time, we all noticed a little boy on the buddy bench. Alone.
“Uh oh. A boy is on the buddy bench,” observed Tucker. “Maybe we should go say hi,” I suggested. Tucker tugged my hand and whispered “But we don’t know that friend.” Maeve looked right at the buddy bench, then back at me, and boldly said, “But I think we should say hi anyway.” I told her that was the brave thing to do (again, with massive tears about to overflow). We marched on. Right as we approached, a recess monitor was unpacking a new game and inviting a bunch of lost looking children to play. Suddenly the boy on the bench was smiling, busy in the game. Tucker and Maeve seemed simultaneously relieved they didn’t have to be quite so brave that time, and pleased the boy found friends.
When the recess bell rang, I gave my boy a hug and a kiss and walked back to my car. Once I was safely inside, I let those tears flow.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how much courage it takes to be the kind one. To step out of a comfort zone and be bold enough to say “come be with me.” I was humbled, feeling the courage it takes to be a kid, in general.
My son was one of the many who began the new journey of Kindergarten this year. He was a bundle of feelings leading up to it. The anxiety of the unknown of this elusive concept kindergarten was challenging. We spent most of Sunday before school started wading through his questions, (me stopping to cry periodically), talking through coping strategies for when he was nervous at school, and cuddling in an attempt to build up fear immunity with snuggles.
When first drop off came, when it was time to say good-bye, Tucker requested a short goodbye. He seemed to know that a long drawn out hugging scene would cause his courage to wane. So it was quick. A big kiss, a reminder his special rock was in his backpack should he need it, and he bravely lined up at Room 4. Over the day I tried to let go and trust, as well as to remotely send him as many brave vibes as I could.
At 3:40, the boy who emerged from the school doors was not the same child who had entered. He was proud, confident, seemingly years older in a matter of hours. As we debriefed and analyzed the day together, I tried to impress upon him how very brave he was. Not because he pushed his fear away and plowed through, but because he felt his fear, he owned it, and he did it anyway.
I think our children need to understand that being brave is not the absence of fear.
Courage is accepting our fears, our worries, our feelings, and sitting with them. Allowing them space. Courage is the internal knowledge and trust that it will be ok, and then walking forward into whatever comes our way.
The courage that children show every day is astounding. Showing up to face their fears outside their home, feeling everything from excitement to loneliness to confusion to understanding, all in the span of moments, is exhausting.
Being a small human in a big world is a lot of work. Big, bold, courageous work.
I need to remember that often. Both for myself, in my big adult world that can seem all too terrifying, and as a mother. I need to feel the enormousness of all their feelings and respect them. I don’t believe children’s feelings can be considered ‘no big deal’ —in fact, I see small children as some of the bravest people there are.
Courage: Feeling the feels and walking forward anyway.