It’s September, and I am weaving through the classroom, sidling up beside kids one at a time.
Lala is my third child enjoying kindergarten with Ms. Foster, and so for the third school year, I have the privilege of assisting this wondrously talented veteran teacher during Writing Workshop. When I first helped with writing eight years ago, I wondered if it was even “right” to make such small people write in lined journals. But I’ve watched little round faces and still dimpled hands dance with letters forming words, shaping sentences, sharing story. This is not drudgery, but joy.
Each time, I approach children, I ask them to tell me what they’re writing, to count out the words in their sentence.
“I am going to the pa-ark,” one boy counts on his fingers, arriving at seven. Because, he seems to figure, park is an important word, a big one — at least worth two slots.
“Close. That’s actually six,” I count out for him, drawing lines with an orange marker for each word he’ll write with the big blue pencil in his journal.
I smile, and he nods in somewhat confused agreement.
Most of the kindergarteners are only beginning to form letters, many using squiggles in place of letters they don’t know or can’t yet stretch out. It is completely encouraged as part of the progress. Not surprisingly, this early in the year few kids write anything that resembles what we’d call sentences.
Suddenly, a little blonde-haired girl stands next to me, tears falling from saucer eyes.
“I can’t write anything,” she says. “I don’t know how to do it.”
I pull her aside and get low. “Honey, you are doing it,” I say. “You’re learning. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Her mouth draws further down at the corners, and I continue.
“You are becoming a writer, and that takes time, but you’ll be amazed, bit by bit, you’ll learn more,” I say. “I can’t wait to see how your writing grows this year.”
She heads back to her desk, looks up at the ceiling.
It is the end of October, and I weave through the class astounded once again at the progress these five- and six-year-olds have made in just a month. It happens so gradually, like a room growing brighter with the sunrise.
The little blonde-haired girl walks with purpose right up to me. “Look what I did,” she says, showing me her journal.
I read the sentence that goes with the happy picture drawn in crayon across the top: “I played on the monkey bars with my friend.”
I look Anna* full in the face, my eyes saucers now.
“Look what you did, Anna! Do you remember a few weeks ago when you told me you couldn’t write and you were feeling so sad, and I told you that you were becoming a writer? Well, look what’s happened.”
Then I saw Ms. Foster’s note to the side of her story. “Independent writer,” it said, with a smily face.
I pointed to those words, and Anna beamed a proud smile, skipped to her desk to lay down the journal, and then kept skipping and smiling over to the drinking fountain where she took big gulps of water, and then skipped again back to her desk.
In the weeks since, I haven’t stopped thinking about Anna, her self doubt. The way she despaired, expecting something from herself so unreasonably far beyond where she should be. Tears of embarrassment falling, ready to give up.
I can’t stop thinking about Anna, her victory. The way she rejoiced, shared her moment with one (of many) who believed in her and allowed herself to enjoy it. Proud, skipping with freedom, buoyed to write her next page.
We stand forever on the precipice of new. So often judging ourselves harshly for what we do not, and cannot, yet know. It’s like we are standing on a cliff, expecting to sprout wings that will carry us to the end when what we’re really being asked is to simply take the next step.
And it’s the next step, the next stroke of pen or strum of guitar, the next yes (or no), the next stuttering word that guides us down the path, light dawning so gradually until we realize we’re no longer walking in dark.
* name changed
Thank you from the bottom of my mama heart for your encouragement of my girl in her guest post on my blog last week. I was touched by the way she encouraged and inspired you and by the way your words helped her see herself through new eyes. What a beautiful picture of community. I love you.