Children of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley smile standing near school

What My Kids Need At School This Year

School starts tomorrow. I’m so nervous that I’m having a hard time sleeping.

I know I shouldn’t be. My kids go to a great school. They know most of the kids who will be in their classes. Many adults in the building know their names and all three of them seem genuinely excited to start.

I know they will learn. I’m always surprised at how much math they are able to do every year. I marvel at how impressive my daughter’s writing has become and the way that my older son can rattle off science statistics that I’d have to look up on Google. I love that my 5-year-old can already write his name.

So it’s not the academics that are keeping me up at night. It’s something else. It’s something I never worried about until my husband died, and now I worry about it obsessively: when they enter that building tomorrow, will they be okay?

I don’t mean to imply that I want them protected from every scrape and every slight. These small adversities are part of childhood. What I’m worried about is the stuff that you can’t measure on a test. When that moment comes – the moment when they miss their dad so badly that tears start to well in their eyes or they look down at the ground to keep from crying – when that moment comes, will someone see them?

I debated this year about whether or not to write their teachers. I didn’t want to be that parent who is emailing teachers before school starts. So I hesitated.

But then I thought about last year and what happened in the high school where I teach. Just before school started, an administrator pulled me aside to talk to me about a student who was coming into my class that year. The student had faced something really difficult the year prior, and this administrator wanted me to know the basic details, in case something came up in class.

I didn’t do anything with this information. I put it in the back of my mind.

But one day, I saw this student walk in class and I knew – I knew – that something wasn’t right. I pulled the student aside and we talked after class. Later, this student sought me out a number of times when things were tough. I never had perfect answers.

But I was there. I held space for that student’s emotions the best I could.

So when I thought about my kids starting back at school, I thought about this student. I thought about how pain can sometimes remain hidden, unless someone knows to watch out for it.

A few days ago, I decided to send an email to each of my kids’ teachers.

“About two years ago, my husband fell ill with a mysterious illness,” I began, and went from there. I tried to be matter-of-fact.

“There’s nothing special that you need to do,” I wrote.  “I just wanted you to be aware of this part of my kid’s life story.”

I must have re-read each email ten times before I sent it. Was I asking too much? Was I sharing too much? Was I doing the right thing by telling the kids’ teachers before they even met my children?

I don’t know. But when I hesitated on hitting send, I thought of how that student in my own class looked the first time we sat down to talk.

That student looked relieved. I had knew some of the background of that student’s life, and it helped us connect.

I guess that’s all I want for my kids, whether it’s on the playground or in the classroom. What I was trying to say in that email to their teachers was this: when the moment comes, when those tears appear because of something that no one can fix, please notice their pain. You don’t need to stop their tears. You probably can’t. All I want is for you to hold that space and those emotions as best you can.

Trust me, that’s all they really need this year.