Family / Kids / Parenting / School

Hello, school (part 1)

There is so dadgum much to say about our kids in schools that this back-to-school advice-fest is broken into two parts. Part 1, below, is the home-spun anecdotal wisdom tip sheet. Part 2, to be published tomorrow, is a list of super-helpful links and resources.

Look, there she goes! Your little pumpkin, your beloved wee moppet, walking bravely into the school classroom for the first time. She turns around once and waves, bravely, before marching in. And you hold it together, your lower lip a-quiver, hopefully not visible to your kid. Then the door closes on her. And you collapse in a puddle on the school playground.

FirstDayKYou pull yourself together, hug your partner (if you’ve got one and you’re both lucky enough to be there), maybe send some woe begotten Facebook update or Tweet, and then find a way to drown your sorrows in a calorie-filled Starbucks product, or stare goggle-eyed at another disoriented Kindergartener parent. Maybe you pretend to be busy at work for the next several hours as your mind keeps drifting back to the vision of the putty-colored school door clicking shut, your child behind it.

Well, fret not! Or fret less! We are here to help! We have been there! Also, we get the part where you’ve got the standard-issue parental heart tugs and gut twists, plus on top of those, the bonus parts that have to do with additional woes, like:

  •  Does any other child at this school have two moms/ two dads/ trans parents/ anything other than Mayberry, RFD?
  • Will anyone have the remotest clue about our family?
  • Will anyone tease my child about it? How will my baby fare?

While I can’t deign to answer these questions, I can say that we’ve all had those worries. And though they won’t all evaporate by the time you return back to pick up your little buttercup at the end of the day (you could swear she grew an inch in just those few hours!), we’re here to tell you that it gets not so worrisome. Even if you’re the only family like yours at the school.

Below, to help you steady yourself in this dicey early time, are five informal tips of my own, followed tomorrow by five top-notch resources from top-notch organizations. I hope they help. And more than that, I hope those of you vets write in with your own tips. And those of you panicking rookies write in with more questions, so we who have weathered a few years of this can help calm your nerves. You know, ’til the panic of college application process sets in.

Five Tips to Help Make Your New-to-School Experience Less Nervewracking

I’ve only been at this gay parenting thing for eight, going on nine years next week. Our oldest is just starting fourth grade, so that makes five elementary school years. This does not stop me from dishing out advice, however. Especially because I feel like we’re still fresh enough at this to feel the evangelical zeal. Below are what I’d consider the most productive, important things we’ve learned so far.

1. Introduce your family to the teacher ASAP. This might seem obvious, but it can get overlooked in the scrum of obtaining school supplies, becoming overwhelmed at the school paperwork that comes home in your kid’s backpack, or the effort you’re directing into the Herculean task of packing lunch/ snack/ youname it into your child’s bag and getting her/ him up and dressed and fed and to the bus stop or school by whatever gawdawful early hour. Five days a week.

2. Be sure to hit the LGBT parent 101 highlights when you do nab a 1:1 with the teacher (this is ideally before the parent-teacher conferences that usually happen several months in, and ideally not just on the fly in a rushed few moments after school lets out) :

•  What  your child calls you and/ or your partner, so the teacher can look out for & support that.
•  How “out” you are, and how “out” your child is about you, and how “out” you are comfortable with the teacher being in reference to your family in class (I’m making no assumptions here, particularly in light stories like J’s, which she shares in this VQ vlog on identity)
•  How your family approaches Mother’s Day/ Father’s day (do you celebrate both moms/ both dads that day? do you divide creatively? give that teacher a clue! this thing can get tricky!)

3. Attend PTA meetings and volunteer! If you possibly can! Look into stuff you can do on the weekend, or for special evening events at the school, if daytime hours are off-limits due to work. But nothing helps you immerse yourself faster in the school’s culture than becoming a helpful part of it. Plus, brownie points you cash in later, people!

4. If your teacher is open to it, loan a book or two to the classroom’s bookshelf. If it’s not there yet (and again, in cahoots with your child’s teacher), help provide some family diversity visibility with a few of your family’s favorite picture books. Or if you don’t own your faves, check one out from the city library even to show the teacher and park the bright idea in her/his head. For some ideas of titles, if you haven’t read ’em all, here are a few personal favorites. For more ideas, check out book lists like Books for School Classrooms & Libraries Featuring LGBT Individuals or Issues. (That’s a teasey hint about the resource-fest to come tomorrow.)

5. Reach out to other parents at the school. I never realized, when our eldest child first went to school, that not only would she be making amazing friendships with schoolmates, but I would be with those schoolmates’ parents. The whole situation was super-scary, until it became a situation I was going through with new friends. Who now, five years later, are treasured less-new friends. Old any day now.

 

Tomorrow, Hello, school: Part 2 (Five Top-Notch Resources to Help Educate Yourself and Your Child’s Teachers).

[PHOTO CREDITS: POLLY PAGENHART]

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5 Comments

  1. Polly thank you for this great resource both today and tomorrow! Both of our kids started school this year (Kindergarten and Pre-K) and I’ve had nothing but these questions and worries tumbling through my head for weeks! Yesterday picking up our youngest from her first day I did get a bit of a thrill when I saw another two mom family there to pick up their little dude from his first day of Pre-K too. It was reassuring to know we aren’t the only family like ours at our kids’ school. I can’t wait to see the links tomorrow!

  2. You are welcome, Michelle!

    I’m so glad you saw another two-mom family. A huge relief. We (queer folk) may be in 99% of the counties in the U.S., but not all of us see each other’s families in our schools. I’d love to know our % rate in school districts and schools. Even in my own queer-friendly town, in a pretty strong queer magnet region (SF Bay Area), I was surprised at how few folks we saw our first year.

    Do tell if you have any worries or lingering doubts! Maybe other folks can weigh in with their own advice here in the comments!

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