My son’s yearbook spins a tale of happy kids making their way through the adventures of kindergarten. But behind the pictures of toothless grins in front of lockers, giggles with classmates and explorations on field trips, a completely different story was playing out.
Every single day for seven months, my son woke at six and stumbled down the stairs, whimpering that he didn’t want to go to school. Throughout each morning, his tears would gain momentum right up until the moment I pried him off of me in the school gym. Then he’d wander off with his hands jammed into his pockets, sucking in his breath in an attempt to stay calm. In the early weeks, he sometimes couldn’t even make it through class without bawling and would be comforted by office staff until he was ready to rejoin his peers.
His tears were not manipulative or fake. He was legitimately distraught over the entire experience. And considering how dramatically his world changed when school began, it is easy to see why.
Prior to kindergarten, his days were spent playing with trucks, chasing animals on the farm and trading Pokemon with his brother. The beloved baby of our family, he was constantly surrounded by siblings who unapologetically heaped love, affection and attention over him all day, every day.
Plus, as a homeschool family, the very idea of school was foreign to this child. I am a solid believer in delaying formal academics in favor of copious amounts of play in early childhood. And I have realized the success of this approach with my three older children. So on the first day of school, he could barely even write his name, let alone decipher letters or numbers. In hindsight, if I’d known traditional kindergarten had become so academic, I might have spent time teaching him some basics. But we all went into this experience blind.
Ripped from his comfortable, laid-back routine and plopped into an academically focused classroom, his universe was tilted on its axis. Not only was he separated from his adoring siblings, suddenly he was expected to sit still in a chair for most of the day, write letters at the same time he was learning them in the first place, memorize sight words, learn what numbers were and what to do with them, stand in line and follow the rules.
He is a fastidious child who desperately wants to do things correctly or not at all. And I am sure he felt like he was drowning in the daily barrage of academics. So he cried. He resisted. And he begged me to let him stay home every day.
I’d be lying if I said my resolve didn’t waver multiple times throughout the year to pull the plug. It actually would have been easier to go back to what was comfortable for all of us and just homeschool him.
But we knew he is a bright kid. He knew he had a fantastic teacher, sweet classmates and was surrounded by supportive and caring adults at school. And we knew that though he struggled in the morning, he usually did fine during the day. So my husband and I determined that he needed to stay the course.
It grieved my mother’s heart to see him struggle. But at the same time, I sensed that the benefit would outweigh the emotions and the challenge. And we wanted him to know that when something is hard, you don’t just quit.
He didn’t gain his footing until the last week of April. But when he did, he blossomed. He started bouncing down the stairs every morning, smiling and eager to go to school. At the gym, he dashed off to play with his friends. And at the end of the day, when he climbed back into the van, he chatted about how much fun he had at school and what he’d learned. By the end of the year, he was reading, writing and calculating with confidence.
Sometimes in our society we are too quick to flee when things get hard. This is true of relationships, jobs and experiences. And we often we give our loved ones permission to quit rather than encouragement to press on. Because it is hard to watch someone you love struggle.
But perseverance builds character and strength. And I’m convinced that quitting is often the wrong answer. At least not without ample time, prayer and much wise counsel. God uses our trials to build muscle to do harder, more important things for the Kingdom. And if we quit, we miss out on critical growth opportunities.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
When life seems impossible and there is no end in sight, know that God gives you everything you need to make it through. Sometimes it’s not obvious, but He’s there. And on the flip side, when people you love feel like they’re drowning, your words of encouragement can be the very thing God uses to love them through it.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
My son demonstrated unwavering determination, courage and perseverance. And God surrounded him with an army of adults to support, encourage and equip him for success. He certainly did not see any of these strengths in himself. But we did. And we repeatedly reminded him that he could do this.
I am beyond proud of this child. Every day he got out of bed, put on his uniform and walked into that building. And at six years old, he has already learned that impossibly hard things can be worth the struggle. Because he will freely admit he is glad he stuck with it.
It turns out the biggest lesson my kindergartener learned this year was not how to read and write, but how to persevere when things are hard. And if a six-year-old can learn that lesson, we all can.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12