I suffered a completely unexpected emotional breakdown the week my Sunshine started kindergarten. If you asked her kinder was just kind of crummy. The school was too big, the days were too long, and she missed her mommy and sister during the day.
If you asked me she was missing out on the magic and happiness of what is supposed to be one of the best years of her life. She was having anxiety attacks and being forced into a neat little public school box that I was desperate to free her from. My usually spunky girl was solemn and downtrodden as she marched into the gymnasium. My little ray of Sunshine who used to beg to go to preschool on days she had violent stomach bugs was now vehemently against walking through those kinder doors. There's a very lovely alternative down the road at her old preschool. They love children. They do amazing but age-appropriate things with children. But most of all they understand children.
I was three minutes from the doors of her elementary school to withdraw her when my husband told me to slow my roll. I couldn't just pull her out of public school because of one bad week. I hadn't even given it the old college try. Public school is the answer in his eyes. And he kindly informed me that it was high time our 5-year-old grew up. Really? At 5. Now we've decided they need to "grow up" at 5? I almost barfed up my bagel.
She needs to face adversity, he said. She needs to realize that there are rules in the world. She's not always going to have fun. She's not always going to like her teacher. There are good times and there are bad. She needs to learn this because after all she's 5. She needs to grow up. She needs to learn.
I cried a lot that day. I cried for my child who was feeling scared. I cried for the things I knew she was missing out on. I cried for the jealousy I felt as I saw my friends post pictures of their elated children who were going to the little kinder down the road. I cried for the picture my daughter drew of her first day of school of the blue sad face with tears. I cried and cried.
Once it was time to pick her up from the institution, I had no more tears. Just a desperate feeling of mommy guilt and confusion. I felt torn between what I should do. Between what was best for my child. I wanted her to be happy and enjoy kindergarten, but maybe Hubs was right. Maybe she does need to face a little disappointment. Maybe she needs to learn to play by the rules a little more.
I asked how her day went, but her face said it all. I didn't want to talk about it anymore, and neither did she. We headed home in silence.
When we walked in the door I fixed her a snack and asked if she wanted to read or play a game. She lit up and asked if we could play Candyland. I'm a sucker for some Hasbro, so we grabbed a spot on the rug and shuffled the cards.
We quickly refreshed our memories on the rules. Pretty simple. Draw the card, move the spaces, don't land in the licorice pit and get to King Kandy's Castle.
Sweet Pea wanted to "play" too, but about halfway through the game we realized she was only interested in the orange cards because "Owange is my fave-itt." Sunshine tried to guide her by drawing her cards or moving her pieces for her, but it was futile. She'd skip ahead three green spaces instead of two, and when she drew Grandma Gooey's card she decided she'd rather go back to the Duke of Swirl.
It was funny to see Sunshine get a little frustrated and then finally give an exasperated sigh. She realized that sometimes not everyone plays by the rules, but it's ok. All you can do is worry about yourself. You can try and help them, but if they're not willing to help themselves you have to leave them in the licorice pit and move on.
We were both hanging out in the Gumdrop Mountains when I drew the card leading me directly to Princess Frostine. She's only a hop skip away from King Kandy's Castle, so without a big plunge back to Lord Licorice or the likes, it looked like my victory was sealed.
Sunshine's face was indignant. I could see in her eyes how unfair she felt this situation was. But she surprised me. Instead of an outburst or a cry of injustice, she simply took a deep breath and said "I don't care! That's fine! I might still win."
She didn't win. I spanked her in about two turns. But she held out hope, and I could not have been prouder. It wasn't over until I crossed that sugary bridge. That kid knows perseverance.
I celebrated my victory without rubbing it in, because I wanted to demonstrate sportsmanship. Plus this is the kid that reaaaaalllly really hates to lose. But again, to my surprise, she didn't huff and puff at her loss. Instead she quietly said "Congratulations."
I hugged her and thanked her for being such a great sport. I told her I know it is tough to lose, but it's even tougher to lose gracefully. I was mega impressed.
Then I taught her one more thing. I quickly scooped up the cards, gave them a good shuffle and reset the game pieces. My victory was short-lived, but so was her loss. Just as quick as I won, she took me to the cleaners with a Grandma Gooey Hail Mary draw. That second game may have been the quickest ever played, and she came out on top. After a wicked happy dance she kindly told me that we could play again and maybe I could win next time.
In life she is going to face adversity. She is going to have to learn the rules. She'll see that sometimes other people don't play by the rules. Sometimes other people get all the glory, or they get the promotion, or they win the soccer game. But throwing her into a stressful situation is not the age-appropriate way to teach her to "deal" with these life lessons. She doesn't need to grow up.
She needs Candyland.
She is 5. Candyland taught her all she needs to know right now about life. Worry about your own gingerbread man. Keep hoping for that Princess Frostine, but celebrate those double purple draws too. And when life sticks you in the licorice pit, just keep your head up. There's always next game.