Ghost of First Grade Past

When I was in first grade, I cried a lot. As in, every day. Save the month I managed to convince my mother that I was horribly sick and needed to stay home. The etiology of my malaise is a little hazy, but one thing that stands out clearly is that I hated my first grade teacher. Things started out well; she sent a sweet letter during the summer. She seemed happy to welcome us all to her class. But then her less than sensitive actions started to stack up. Like when she rolled her eyes and looked exasperated when I didn’t know the answer to 8 + 0 right away (what can I say, math has never been my strongest subject). Or like when she would get frustrated with something I did, heave a big sigh, and scratch her eyeball with one of her long red fingernails (I’m not making this up). Or like when we went around at circle time sharing our middle names and she laughed at my Korean middle name and said, “Really? That’s your middle name?” Which of course made all the other kids laugh at me.

Yeah, just what I was thinking. That bitch.

So I was unhappy. I cried in class. A lot. I grabbed the bathroom pass any chance I got and made a break for it and headed upstairs, where I would stand in the doorway of my sister Stephanie’s classroom, crying for my sister. I got punished repeatedly by my teacher for disrupting my sister’s class. I then managed to stay home “sick” for a month. I’m sure the only reason they didn’t hold me back was because my teacher did not want to deal with me another year. It just kept snowballing.

And then once I left first grade, everything was cool. I was back to being the happy kid I was in kindergarten.

Fast forward 30 years and I’m the parent of a daughter who is far more sensitive to transitions than I was, but currently is experiencing a similar level of malaise at school. After a very rough transition to kindergarten, things actually have been great for many months; drops off have been a piece of cake and she loves her teachers and friends. But the last week? We’re back to sobbing drop offs and sobbing bedtimes (in anticipation of going to school in the morning). Laurel also cries periodically during the day (she says because she misses us) and says that she feels that her teacher is mad at her or hates her because she cries. Which makes her totally panicky about going to school.

Yeah, I stopped in my tracks too.

Laurel’s teacher is nothing like my first grade teacher, and when Jon talked to Laurel’s teacher this morning, she was totally taken aback that Laurel would think that she hated her because of the crying. I’m hoping that with some patience and love and deep breaths from all parties, we’ll get through this bumpy patch quickly. Because I don’t want the rest of Laurel’s kindergarten days, or her summer day camp (which we selected because Laurel’s teacher is involved) to be like the hell that was my first grade experience.

Like many instances in parenting, I have the distinct feeling that this experience is trying to teach me some kind of lesson. I wonder if it's that it's time to make friends with my ghost of first grade past.