The smile on her face was bigger than I had seen at school pick up all year. I breathed a sigh of relief. It had worked. The note in her lunch box, the family photo in her cubby, my scarf, securely knotted around her neck for her to snuggle into. They all worked to make my highly sensitive kindergartener make it through a full day of school without her 2:50 p.m. meltdown.
We started Elsa with half days at her school. This was her first year ever attending any sort of school and her first time regularly being away from us. We figured it was best all around.
Within six weeks she was begging us to let her stay full days. We agreed. We knew the transition would be hard. We prepared and waited. Most days she would walk out of school, arm around her beloved teacher, with big fat tears streaming down her cheeks. She would run to me and throw her arms around my neck and sob. She would either tell me stories of loud noises, funny faces from her peers, imaginary dangers, or, more simply, that she missed me.
It would take between ten minutes and two hours to calm her enough to have her stop tearing up. We would talk about her feelings and how we could work to make her feel better. After bed I would sit with my husband and brainstorm how to make our sweet girl worry less and laugh more. At school pick up, on the days she wasn't crying, I would discuss tactics with her teacher.
We all agreed Elsa is very bright and extremely creative. This intelligence and imagination would serve her well eventually but right now, it feels a little scary. She worries about things other children may not even think about. She lives so deep in her fantasy worlds, at times, that it can be jarring for her to transition out of them.
First and foremost, I didn't want her to feel like crying when she is sad or scared is wrong. I wanted her to continue to feel free to express her emotions. I want her to hold onto that authenticity for as long as possible. What I wanted to focus on was making her feel less scared and sad in the first place. I wanted to acknowledge her fears and worries, not dismiss them. I wanted to make sure she felt heard. Really heard.
So, every day we talked. I listened. I listened when her stories went in and out of reality. A fire alarm set off by burnt popcorn very quickly became a worry that the alarm was because her school was set on fire by a dragon. We talked about the dragon. We discussed his motives and why it would be near her school. Together we decided that it made more sense that the alarm was because of a popcorn mishap and that the dragon was of no threat to her or her school.
I allow her to be herself. Some days it tests my patience. It would be so much easier to tell her that dragons are not real and that fire alarms are necessary and she should just let it go. But she can't just let it go. And to her, dragons are real. (As are the wolves she is currently luring onto the playground with her classmates. They want to pet the friendly grey female one. They have heard she is super soft. They left treats and water ) So, instead, I take deep breathes and discuss the best tactics in dealing with dragons or fairies or friends who make scary noises and faces she doesn't like. We practice breathing and I send her to school with something of mine that she can turn to for comfort.
I don't know what next year will bring, I don't even know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know that, with any luck, it'll bring more days with smiles and less tears. It'll bring laughter and wolf fur and friendly dragons. And if all of my tactics fail and tears happen, I will scoop her up and we will talk until her beautifully creative mind quiets enough for her to know that she is safe and loved. So very loved.