The day I realized I had Kindergarten all wrong

“Her mom probably cried when she left for Kindergarten and I celebrated with my friends by going out to brunch.”

I picked up this (mis)quote somewhere along the road (I think it’s from Jen Hatmaker and I think it’s from her blog, or her book Seven. Forgive me for my terrible sourcing here.)

I’ve repeated it with friends during friendly banter about how ready I was for my children to go off to school.

I’m one of THOSE moms, I said, the ones who will drop them off at school and head for the coffee shop with a grin on my face.

And then came the night before Kindergarten. As I emerged from the bathroom after brushing my teeth Kel signaled for me to follow him into the kid’s bedroom.

“This is the last night we have two preschoolers, she starts Kindergarten tomorrow… We have a school kid!”

We squinted at each other in the dim light and exchanged some sort of “holy crap” type look complete with raised eyebrows.


She was going to school, for real school, not preschool but like big, huge, out in the world school.

And then I started to cry, and panic, and wish that we had some paper bags in the house so I could hyperventilate properly. (Kel offered to get me a plastic bag to which I responded “are you trying to kill me?!?”)

We headed to bed to chat about it all more and I started sobbing to him.

“I get it! I get why Moms cry when they send their kids to school! It’s not because they can’t stand to be without them for a while, it’s because this world is so damn scary and mean and we won’t be there! I need five more years to talk to her about All. The. Things!”

“Like how to be resilient when people are mean to her! And how to show love to a kid who everyone else is being mean to! And how she needs to believe what we teach her about who she is and who God says she is so if someone teases her for being too busy or picking her nose she will know that what they say doesn’t matter because people suck Kel! And OH MY GOD someone is going to offer her drugs like tomorrow, I just know it, we haven’t talked about drugs. I need five more years, I won’t be there! She is NOT READY for the big world.”

I am not ready to let the world have a crack at her. Not yet.

Because guys? The world can be so mean, so so mean and she is sweet, she is all kitties and big brown eyes and almost too many hugs and kisses every single day.

I don’t want careless people to break that.

Do you remember how scary school can be? And how mean kids are? I may as well toss her to the wolves as send her to Kindergarten!

I know she will come home crying and I know that we will have 17,842 more talks about life as it’s happening, complete with names, faces and context.

But Kindergarten day was dawning and I felt suddenly obscenely unprepared.

Still, the sun rose and we pulled on her skort and her polo. I did her hair in pigtails WITH little braids in them, completely exhausting my updo skills.


We walked down to the fantastic Montessori school and I kept breathing as we stood amongst a crowd of other excited buzzing parents and children.

When her teacher walked out I eyeballed her and thought something along the lines of: you better cherish her little heart and see how wonderful she is or I will break you in half…(just kidding Ms Jennifer… if you’re reading this I’m sorry and I swear I will rock snack duty next week.)

It’s like this:

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” ~Elizabeth Stone

This quote nails it.

Suddenly you wake up and you send your unprepared heart to Kindergarten, and it’s all exposed and out there. You can’t swoop in to protect it and past experience tells you that there’s a 1000% chance it will be broken time and time again.

You think of every mean thing that happened to you and try frantically to protect your child from enduring the same. You know broken is beautiful and that she has to learn to endure heartache, to believe in who she is because she’s had to defend it, to see the world through other people’s eyes because she has access to them…

And you want to believe that God has her, but your life tells you that his “in control” and your “in control” are worlds apart. He will allow hard things to happen to her, the bitter and the sweet are coming, neither of which call to question his power or love… somehow.


So you send your heart to Kindergarten and you make peace with the lump in your throat and the look of terror on your face. You remind yourself that you are new at being a school-kid mom and that you have much to learn as well.

And you will learn, both of you, and it will be some sort of okay even though it will constantly take you by surprise.

And you realize the morning of Kindergarten that not only do you have no idea how to spell the world, that you grossly misjudged how it would feel to send her through those doors to face the big world, to let it have access to her.

See how I spelled it wrong? I clearly don't get Kindergarten. Stupid german words.

See how I spelled it wrong? I clearly don’t get Kindergarten. Stupid german words.

Oh world, be gentle
Oh God shape her, May I always be her safe place second only to you as you are the only one who has staying power on this earth.
Oh Noelle, be brave, be unapologetically yourself, be a good friend, a passionate learner.
Oh God… be with her in that classroom, preserve that heart so she can show the world how much beauty you jam packed in there… 

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  • Mark Allman

    After Jessi was born I knew I was not one of those parents who looked forward to them leaving home for anything. Kindergarten was tough especially when I visited and she clung to my leg when I went to leave; then high school came with it’s own parent worries; and college.. oh college, and the Army and college for Jessi, Levi, and Esther. I went in a corner and weep after each one. It took a long time for me to realize that I had no control over their safety; or that I could protect them outside of teaching them and standing alongside as they made these journey’s their own.

    • Leanne Penny

      It’s true, we so badly want guarantees of protection and to helicopter them forever. I think in the end it’s only easier for us… because it holds them back from who they need to be, for themselves, for the world.

  • Natalie Hart

    Yes, that’s it. The trust we have to exhibit to send them into school is enormous. Enormous! The thing is, you can’t talk to them about mean kids and bad teachers in any meaningful way until they’re in it, so another 5 years wouldn’t matter. It’s tough all around…

    • Leanne Penny

      It’s true! It HAS to be in the moment… so that’s good, I guess. 😉

  • bki sue anna

    i have struggled so much with how to handle this cold cruel world. my mom didn’t know how, she just pretended it away. so when things hurt me she wasn’t there to help me she was too busy trying to protect herself from the pains. i understand her reaction and i forgave her for it but i have also learned from it. that’s what acknowledging painful things does, it provides opportunity to learn, grow, cope and in the end be better for it.

    • Leanne Penny

      Oh Bki, thank you for this reminder, that the awareness and bravery in the face of the hard is a gift in the end. I know this, but so often I just wish it was smooth sailing all along, even though I KNOW, I KNOW that it cripples them in the end. Thank you.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I thought this was going to get easier! But I’m sending my little guy off to first grade tomorrow morning and your words made me tear up. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, is it??

    • Leanne Penny

      Not. In. The, Least!

  • Stacy A

    You are doing just fine!! Yep, it’s scary, but I promise, promise, promise God is there with her and there with you, and He is taking care of y’all. (I still remember those feelings, even though it’s been 16 years since we did kindergarten … hey, call it “kindy,” it’s easier to spell, lol.) I think for me the hardest thing, the day I cried my eyes out, was my son’s LAST day of kindy, when I realized that from then on out, “summer vacation” was the only freedom he would have until … well, until he graduated from high school (or college, if he didn’t take summer classes). And then he would be working and only have a couple of weeks off every year (unless he becomes a professor, which is his goal now) until he retired. As an old man. I bawled my eyes out, not wanting his freedom to be over!

    Now he’s a college graduate with a year off before going to grad school. He did college here in our hometown (lived on-campus and then in an apartment, so I had to adjust to the “empty” nest, even though he came home a LOT). But grad school … he’s looking at Cornell (in New York State … we live in Texas). Maybe Rice (okay, Houston, not that far away). Maybe somewhere in California.

    So, when this year is over and he goes off the the Big, Wide World, will you please remind me of what I said about God is there with your child and He is there with You and it will all be okay?

    DANG I hate this growing-up stuff. On the one hand it’s an amazing, awesome, super-cool ride to see how God shapes them, to see who they’re turning into. But then they leave home for good. I’m not into that part.

    We’ll all get through it. Because God really is with them. And with us.

    • Leanne Penny

      Absolutely. Grown up life has it’s perks too. What a journey mama!!!

  • Rea

    She is darling. :) Kindergarten was oddly easy with my first, maybe because he was in daycare and Early Childhood up until he started school. I won’t say I didn’t have fears, there are always fears when you take a child who is just a little bit different and set them loose among their peers. And you pray that they will be loved for who they are. But he was so excited, I couldn’t help but be excited too. You want to know when I dissolved into tears? When he finished 5th grade. His teacher and I just blubbered all over each other. It was grand. I’ll probably do the same when he finishes middle school next year and he will be wildly embarrassed because…MOM!. Clearly it’s the endings that I have issues with! Although I did have some tears when my 2nd (youngest) started kindergarten. This is the first of many, many milestone moments and they all are a little sweet and a little sad and a lot nerve-wracking and somehow you, she, and all of the rest of your family will survive each and every one. And you will look back and smile. :)

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you, I actually hope I end up blubbering with a teacher over her some day because… a teacher who is that invested? What a gift!

      Oh Milestones, some times you are altars and some times you hit me in the face.

      • Rea

        When Jordan decided to enter the school science fair that year and did not win (because we tried to make a solar oven in South Dakota in the winter), she got teary right along with him (and me). We have been blessed with some amazing, loving teachers. I have no doubt that you will encounter many just like them over the years.