This is the last week of school for my big guy. First grade came and went with few glitches, best friends, cub scouts, baseball, reading chapter books, double digit addition, spelling tests and lots of fun.  What stands out though is how marvelously unextraordinary first grade was in our home.  It went just as most people remember their young school experience to be – wonderful.
I love that.

My first grade experience was a whole lot of similar firsts and so many more differences.  It was my first year in America, my first time in a school, my first time as a big sister.  It was my first experience feeling different, my first bully on the playground, my first feelings of true fear…my first understanding that I didn’t understand the rules I needed to abide by.

It reminds me of the first time I met an 11-year-old boy adopted from Eastern Europe at the age of 7.  He was sent to live with an extended family member after his adoptive parents no longer wished to parent him.  Our first conversation was his explanation as to why he was not with his new mom and dad, “I didn’t know the rules of the house.”  I knew exactly what he meant.

It was with anxiety I approached this past year, this past birthday of my little boy.  He became the age I was when my life’s path took a completely different trajectory.  For him, turning six was something to look forward to.  A big birthday party with friends, entertainment just as requested, a cake just as expected and lots and lots of presents just as he had hoped! Exact.  Predictable.  Lovely.

In remembering my 6th year, I am struck by how stark the contrast is to what my child had.  Truth is, I am a bit amazed at what I did all those years ago. I got on a big airplane for the first time all by myself carrying my own bag and holding the hand of my new charge, my new little sister.  I sat on that big machine screaming to get out, puking with tissue hanging out of my nose from yet another nose bleed.  I dutifully walked off that plane and bowed to my new parents.  A month later, I sat staring at a green chalkboard smelling the breath of my new teacher who was saying things I had not a clue about.  But the place that caused most distress?  RECESS. I could play hopscotch but not with the numbers nicely printed on the boxes.  What were the numbers for?  I loved playing jacks, but these girls had nice shiny ones with a ball.  Where were the rocks carefully chosen for easy tossing? And why the extra bounce in the ball? That was NOT how to play!  And what was the deal with the teams?  And why was I never picked?  And so I sat, watching, figuring out the rules.

I became a quick study.  In three months, I learned English.  I learned to answer to a new name and to trust new people called Mommy and Daddy.  I learned the rules, fast.

First of all, the world was an unpredictable place and I needed to keep quiet when I cried.  Crying outloud just made others uncomfortable, was food for ostracizing and a guartantee to not make any friends. I stopped sitting around except to read a great book that allowed me to escape.  I learned my greatest gifts were my mask of a smile and my brain…I was smart, “gifted” they said.  You would be gifted too if you figured all of this out in one year. School was my heaven and hell.  I could read and learn as much as I possible wanted to accolades from the teachers. But gym class and specials and that damn playground were my nemesis.  In time, I learned to be quiet during those times and wistfully watched the popular girls work the place dictating who was in and who was out.

Many of us are told that in mothering your child, you mother yourself.  I am not sure it is mothering I need to have again. But navigating first grade the second time around?  Awesome.  This time, first grade meant camping with the cub scouts where everyone did everything together. Batting practice with the little league on a chosen team rocks! It meant making snow on Wizard Wednesday and have others fight over my attention.  Best of all, I was told by another first grader that I was a really great reader when it was my turn to be Mystery Reader of the day!

First grade was so much fun! I get it now.

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