I just got an email from my son Tommy’s pre-kindergarten teacher that made me cry. I’ll paraphrase it here:
Mark your calendars for FAMILY DAY! In lieu of Mother’s and Father’s day celebrations we would love you to join us for breakfast to celebrate our pre-kindergarten families! Coffee, juice and assorted pastries will be served, along with the special bread recipe created by our class! Hope to see you there!
Obviously the teacher wasn’t trying to make me cry. But, she did. She made me cry because of this simple act of inclusion. And it made me think this: I bet the teacher was thinking of me when she wrote it.
Maybe she was also thinking of the family with two dads in it. Or the family where the grandma picks up her grandchild every day. I don’t know, really. But I know that Tommy’s teacher had to plan a purposeful day in order to deal with these parenting holidays that surround the end of the school year.
She didn’t have to do this. She could have done what I always did when I taught Sunday school and Mother’s or Father’s Day came around: I’d just have the kids make a card for a special woman or man in their lives. I figured, that’s okay, right?
Then my kids lost their dad. And all of the sudden I realized that no, it wouldn’t be okay for a teacher to ask one of my kids to make a card for their godfather or uncle or grandfather when all of the other kids were making cards for their fathers. Even if each of my children smiled through the card-making, I know they would hurt inside. Because what child wants to be different? And what child wants it pointed out that while every other kid in the class is making a card for his or her dad, you have to make one for a random relative or family friend?
My kids have all had really thoughtful teachers every year, but Tommy’s teacher is particularly wonderful. I didn’t know who she was when he was assigned to her class, but at the meeting we had right before school started, she told me that she lost her father when she was about Tommy’s age.
I cannot tell you how reassuring that was for me. Obviously, it’s terrible that she lost her father so young, but I knew it meant that she would have an even better understanding of my boy. She would know what to do if he had an outburst around the anniversary of his father’s death. She would know how important it would be to read diverse books and champion all different kids of families. And she would know that celebrating Mother’s or Father’s day would be potentially really tough for some of her 5-year-olds. Or at least for mine.
So she decided on Family Day. Sure, this might mean that for some mothers (myself included!) it’s unlikely our kid will independently make us a Mother’s Day card. But I’m willing to give that up. Because I’m a mom and Tommy’s happiness matters a hell of a lot more than a card he might make me in class.
I know there are so many schools in America where kids without mothers or fathers are still “encouraged” to make a card even if they are missing a parent. Worse, I know that those dreaded “father-daughter” dances still exist, and some of my online widow friends have had to figure out how to navigate such “celebrations.” But how great are these celebrations if they leave people out? Especially if those people are 5-year-olds?
It’s a little thing, this Family Day celebration. But I love it. It makes me feel seen and it makes me feel like my family is a part of the school where I send my children. And that strikes me as one of the most important things a school can do. Include us all.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.