Fire Suppression.

“Don’t cry, you’re not a baby, are you?” These words, possibly not verbatim, were uttered to my child on his second day of preschool/day care here in Eindhoven. BY. A. TEACHER. He revealed this to me on our walk to the park after work today as he mentioned he was sad because mommy and daddy weren’t at preschool with him.

What was supposed to be a casual and exciting conversation about how his day went turned into a counterbalance lesson and comfort and support talk. About how everyone feels sad and sometimes people cry when they’re sad and that’s okay. About how mommy and daddy will always come back for him after preschool. About how sometimes thinking of happy thoughts (like being with mommy and daddy) helps us feel better. About how if a teacher tells him this again that he should say that “daddy said it’s okay to cry.”

It took me a few hours, a bike ride, and a generous slice of cake to get past the anguish and sadness I felt for him. As I mentioned in my last post, the kid is doing heroic things all while trying to evolve and mature. Feelings are powerful, overwhelming, and scary, and being in a completely foreign environment with your primary sources of comfort and security removed only amplifies those feelings. Not that I need to validate what he was feeling in any way, but holy shit of course there would be tears!!

As for the teacher, I’m still livid. If we were back at home I’d be camped out in front of the office overnight, primed for a Wolverine-style discussion with the staff as soon as the clock ticked 8:01. But I’m not at home. I’m in a foreign country where I don’t completely understand the culture, language, teaching methods, or societal norms. So unfortunately I have to settle for damage control which, ultimately, will probably happen more often than being able to change the system. And I know the teacher was trying to comfort a scared and upset child who doesn’t know him/her, doesn’t speak the language, and hasn’t adapted to this new environment. But still, I’m livid.

How many times is this exact same message carried to our children? Suck it up, buttercup. Boys don’t cry. It’s not that bad. It could be worse. Quit being a baby. You’re a big boy now. I’ll give you something to cry about. All of these, all of these are creating unhealthy expectations of emotional control and suppression. Everyone has a right to their own feelings sans judgement from others, especially when they are only three years old. And if there’s one thing I know for a fact, it’s that emotional suppression causes scars and dysfunction that are extremely difficult to overcome and heal.

We can do better. We will do better. And we’ll cry if we want to.

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Goliath.

[Preface: My family and I are living in the Netherlands for the next 6 months due to my work assignment. I haven’t written anything about it here, but I hope to soon.]

Big day yesterday. Big, big day. The first day of preschool, sort of, anyway. While living here in Eindhoven it was critical that we found ways to expose our son to as much of the culture as possible. So as serendipity would have it there is a preschool/daycare less than a 5 minute walk from where we’re living. So for 3 days a week, 4 hours a day, Trenton goes to Kinderdagverblif’t Parelbosch to play with other children his age and absorb as much of the Dutch culture, language, and education as he can. By the end of this it’s very likely that he’ll speak Dutch better than we will after studying it daily for over a year.

My mind was racing with worry the night before and the morning of. Other than babysitters and family this is the first time he’s been left without us for so long. And having to do it in an unfamiliar space in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language? For 4 hours??? Did he eat enough for breakfast? Will the 1 snack they feed him be enough? What will the snack be? How well will he play with the other children? Have we as parents prepared him enough for this? Will he melt down from the tremendous pressure and separation anxiety?

I cooked him a special breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, and Mandarin oranges. He ate some of it, but I fretted internally about him not eating enough protein. We made the short walk from the house to Parelbosch mostly with Trenton being carried in mom’s arms. We walked up the stairs and through the door together holding hands. We walked into the room and he made a beeline right for the cars and trucks, us parents only a minor inconvenience sharing the same space while he went straight to the work of play. A quick kiss goodbye, some “I love yous”, and poof, we were gone. No tears, no hugging of legs, nothing. Anticlimactic to say the least. A walk home with no child in tow provided a very surreal feeling.

Kids have a way of surprising you in the most incredible of ways. Aside from some minor struggles from being hungry (not enough breakfast) and a little separation anxiety, he said he had fun! Played with cars and trucks, ate apples for a snack, and went outside with the group to play. We as parents didn’t do him any favors there by forgetting to leave his coat there so he had to borrow one from someone else (hey, we’re rookies at this too). All in all a great day and a huge sigh of relief from me.

I know my job is to prepare him as best I can for all the challenges he will face in the world so he can fearlessly knock them down head on. Even then, he’s doing the heavy lifting here and I am unfathomably proud of him for that. He’s been so brave and resilient for all the struggles of being here – from the 20-hour travel day here to the jet lag and 9-hour time difference to having to endure Daylight Savings Time twice in 3 weeks. This child has proven he is built to slay giants and the next one comes tomorrow.

Go get ’em, kid.