Teddy sniffled and held my hand tighter as we stepped into the crosswalk.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
She looked up at me, her bright blue eyes filled with apprehension.
I plastered on my biggest smile and squeezed her hand. “You are going to love school! Let’s go meet
your new teacher!”
She didn’t look convinced, but her grip eased, and we pressed the buzzer button to be let into the school. Teachers were bustling back and forth. A few students were in the hall. Classes had actually begun the previous week, but for Teddy, this was the afternoon before her first day. Just like many things in her short life, she was starting just a bit behind the curve.
Our lives have been on a bit of a speed track the last three years, as we welcomed baby number six (our youngest was 9 when little Bria came on the scene) and became foster parents. Teddy is the 19th foster child to stay with us since we became licensed.
First days are common in a foster family – first day away from home, first family dinner in a strange place, first night in a strange bed. The first day of school can be especially scary for these children, because they don’t have the usual support system to run home to at the end of a tough day.
Last year on the first day of school I was reassuring a sweet redhead on her first day of middle school. This year it is a terrified little blonde on her first day of kindergarten.
The principal came out to meet us, and when he put his hand on Teddy’s shoulder, she darted behind me like a crab to its shell.
“Sorry, she doesn’t seem to be very comfortable around men,” I whispered, as she clung to my arm again.
He frowned and nodded, then continued to speak to Teddy at a respectful distance. After a few moments she relaxed, and allowed him to lead us (me in between them, of course) to her new classroom.
Once in the kindergarten room at the far end of the hall, Teddy’s eyes lit up as she dragged me from one station to the next. She exclaimed over the kitchen, rocked a baby doll in a bassinet, and looked through the blocks. When she responded to a question from her teacher I was able to exhale – she was going to be just fine.
A short time later Teddy waited patiently in the hall as the principal and I discussed her unique challenges in his office. This part can be a bit hard, especially just days into our relationship with Teddy. Every foster child has challenges, and it isn’t always immediately obvious what they are. I shared what I knew, and Teddy and I were on our way, off to pick up the supplies she needed for school the next day.
This time as we crossed the street, her grip on my hand was tight with excitement as she jumped up and down and told me about the classroom.
“You are going to love school!” I repeated, and this time I knew it was the truth.
Crysta Parkinson is a wife, mother, and writer on the plains of North Dakota. In a past life she was a newspaper editor, but is now blissfully management-free as a stay-at-home mom and birth doula. She and her husband Justin have a big happy “his, hers, and ours” family with six beautiful children, and have also welcomed into their hearts and home a parade of foster children. You can get know her better on her website at www.cyberdoulas.com.