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Back-to-school lessons for me
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert's son poses on the first day of school. - photo by Carmen Rasmusen Herbert

As a parent, it’s always hard for me to know when to intervene in my child’s life. I understand things are not always going to be easy and that those difficult times are the ones that promote the most growth. Challenges can change us — hopefully for the better.

When it comes to my four boys, watching them struggle has been one of my greatest trials. I want to take away every uncomfortable situation, to choose all the right friends for them, to hand-pick their teachers and classmates and never have them get hurt or feel left out or have to step outside their comfort zone. I know that is completely unrealistic. But I want it, just the same. However, this last week I learned a big lesson on letting my kids struggle and the wonderful feeling of pride that comes from facing your fears head-on.

“Boston, do you recognize any of these names?”

We were standing outside the teacher’s door of my oldest son's new class at back-to-school night, reading the class list written on little parrots under a sign that read, “Welcome to Our Treehouse!”

“Yeah,” my son said. “A few.”

I glanced at another door. Sailboat after sailboat had names of his friends and I realized most of the kids he knew were in another class. After meeting his teacher and hearing glowing reviews from other parents, I was feeling more confident, but I was still a little worried about sending my shy boy into a classroom full of children he wasn’t as close with.

I stared longingly across the hall. Should he be in the boat room instead of the jungle room? Making friends is something I have worried about for him, mostly because he can take a while to warm up and is usually quiet in class.

The next day was the first day of school. My two older boys who were headed to school were so excited and found it hard to fall asleep. I did, too. But, of course, I was worried about my boys feeling comfortable in their classes.

As soon as we arrived at the school, my second-oldest son walked right up to his class with no problem at all, grinning and waving goodbye after a girl said hi. Laughing, I waved back, and then my oldest boy, Boston, and I walked to his classroom along with his two littlest brothers (still in jammies) and found his desk.

“So, do you recognize more people now?” I whispered.

“Yeah,” he said, glancing around nervously. He pointed to some kids he knew, still unsure.

“What about this boy here?” I gestured to the boy sitting next to him. “What’s your name?” I asked. He told me, and he and Boston quickly glanced at each other, then away. My heart sank.

“How do you feel?” I asked him.

My sweet boy looked down at his desk. “Um … I don’t know,” he said, trying to keep his emotions in check.

All my mama-bear instincts suddenly turned on full-force: I can't let my boy stay here. He will have a horrible year. He won’t make any friends. He will have a difficult time learning because he feels so uncomfortable. I can’t let him go through that.

I tried to conjure up some words of encouragement and then walked out — straight to the principal’s office.

“I need to fill out a form to transfer classes,” I told the office secretary. I wrote what I thought were very legitimate reasons to switch and then waited in agony all day while I debated whether I was doing the “right” thing.

Finally the time came to pick up my boys from school. I pulled around the horseshoe and spotted my two sons smiling and laughing. I waved, and they jumped into the car.

“How was school?” I asked. Before I could ask another question, Boston yelled, “I LOVED IT!” from the back seat. “I love my teacher! I love my class! And guess what?”

“What?” I asked, shocked at his enthusiasm.

“I made a new friend!”

He told me he and the boy next to him both laughed at the same places during a read-aloud and became fast friends. My heart felt so full of gratitude and relief I thought it would burst.

Later the principal called and I told him, “Wait. Before you say anything, my son came home and told me what an awesome day he had. He wants to stay right where he is.”

I learned something very important that day. I can do everything I can to try to make life as wonderful and easy as possible for my boys.

But watching them struggle through a situation and then come out stronger and more resilient makes me indescribably proud. I think I sometimes underestimate my boys. I am still that mother hen rushing around flapping her wings, making sure their food is eaten and their faces are wiped and their jammies are laid out. I don’t think I’ll ever stop fighting for them. Protecting my sons will always be hard-wired into the fiber of my being until the day I die. I do a lot for them, like most well-meaning mothers because — why else? — I love them.

But I am learning that sometimes loving means letting go. They are braver and stronger than I realize.

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