One and a half more weeks of holiday and school starts again. You can tell that my two girls’ minds are beginning to turn to the new term because sometimes out of nowhere comes a little remark that reveals a hidden iceberg of thoughts and worries.
Katy is going back into year two, her last year at the little local infant school just around the corner. Her year one class has been split into two and she isn’t with any of her friends. I held my breath as she handed me the paper, waiting for anguish and gnashing of teeth, but she was philosophical.
‘Mummy, there’ll be all those new friends to make.’
What about that.
I can’t tell you how much I admire her. Six years old and fearless in the face of a daunting situation. Of course, she has her insecurities, but in the playground she’s relaxed and confident of her own welcome and as a result the other kids want to play with her. How wonderful that is. I would love to be more like that.
Her big sister, on the other hand, has moments of excitement about going back into year four, but mostly she’s apprehensive and as September draws closer I can feel her happy holiday mood slipping a little. Last term didn’t go particularly well and the troubles and tears multiplied until we were just nursing her through the last days before the long holiday. It’s all been on the back burner but now it’s time to turn up the heat again…
I encourage and reassure and comfort and advise, but the bottom line is that they both need to work out what to do to get through school and friendships and so on for themselves. What works for Katy might not work for Elizabeth, and what has worked all along might not always go so well. They are unique little bodies and personalities and neither of them is me. They’re not going to handle it as I did (and that’s probably a good thing; I made a complete hash of friendships for much of my school career).
So, I will walk them to school and I’ll buoy them up with words of encouragement. I shall tell them that they are warm, kind, beautiful, clever, interesting and fun to be with. I shall advise them on letting others go first, wining and losing with grace and happily playing games suggested by other children even if they feel they have a better idea.
They have new school uniforms, (rats, socks. Forgot socks) and shiny new shoes. They’ll have new haircuts and pencil cases. They’ll be as ready as I can make them, but when I’ve waved goodbye, they’ll pretty much have to sort it out for themselves.
Here’s what I’d like them to remember:
Beautiful daughter of mine,
You are loved.
More than you know, you are loved. You are loved by all your family back here at home; by me, watching the clock for school pick up time and anxiously searching out your face in the exodus of children passing through the school doors, and you are loved beyond imagination by your heavenly Father.
He made you just as you are. He made you deliberately, not accidentally. You were designed by a Master craftsman who never, ever makes mistakes. When He finished making you, my little one, He sat back and smiled, delighted with the little girl He had made. He knows every hair on your head and He sees every breath that you take. He promised a long, long time ago that He would never leave you, and He is always at your side. Even when Mummy goes back home, He walks through those doors right next to you. He sits by you and cheers you on, and He puts His arms around you when things are tough.
He is so proud of you. We all are, my lovely, but your heavenly Daddy knows the things that we can’t know. He knows how fearful you are of new situations and He sees how difficult you find school, sometimes. He understands that now and again things go wrong and He smiles with pride when you don’t give up; when you say sorry, when you try again.
You are loved. Let that sink in really deep, my darling, so that you can find that knowledge quickly when you need it. Try to understand those three little words so that they build you up. Things knock you down, sometimes, and I know that you feel fragile and vulnerable at school. It hasn’t been easy so far and I know that you’re sometimes overwhelmed and uncertain how to handle things. When you’re feeling left out or insignificant, remember those three words: you are loved. Remember that you are loved just for who you are, not for anything you can do. That love doesn’t falter when things go wrong, or you make a mistake.
You are loved, all the time, no matter what. Just think: the Creator of the world loves you. He loves you so much that he smiles as He thinks of you. He is delighted with you, just as I am.
I want to say it again, because I know how easy it is to listen to things but not to really hear them.
Those other girls? The ones that say mean things and hurt your feelings? Oh, my love, there will always be girls like that. I’m forty-two and still they’re around, only now they’re at the school gates instead of whispering at the back of the classroom. It’s not going to change because you’re a year older. It’s something that has always been, will always be.
Don’t be one of them. I know there will be times when you’ll be tempted to try to fit in by laughing with the mean girls; how membership of their circle seems a coveted prize, but don’t do it. Friendship acquired at someone else’s expense isn’t friendship at all, and all too soon it’ll be you on the outside again, for truth and companionship aren’t built on secrets and sneering, but on compassion and honesty.
And when you’ve been rejected or hurt and you want to lash out and hit back; don’t. Close your eyes and count to ten, or breathe deeply and walk away, but don’t play their game. Jesus taught us to love those that are not our friends. It’s hard – even for grown ups – but He told us that we must be kind to those who aren’t kind to us. And that means her, my lovely girl. Yes, you know who I mean. The one that you don’t see to eye to eye with, and yet part of you longs to be part of her crowd.
Time and time again you’ve left school with her spiteful words ringing in your ears and before we’ve even walked home you’ve had tears on your cheeks because of this girl and her friends. Don’t return meanness with meanness, because the momentary satisfaction that it brings quickly evaporates and leaves a guilty residue that only damages you. Better to return spite with kindness. Then you keep your integrity and the whole of heaven rejoices, because it’s not an easy thing to do.
I’m doing my best with that one myself, love, because I hate to see you hurt. Forgiving those that hurt you, even if they’re only little themselves – well, I’m doing my best with that too. And one day, when you have children of your own and you know the fierceness of the love that you feel for your baby, you’ll know how hard it is.
Be brave, my little one; the world has plenty of people like her, but more that are not. Don’t judge the whole world by the standards of the mean kids.
Seek out the children who are kind to you, who make you laugh, who make you feel happy, and do the same for them. Be a good friend, and you’ll find good friends. I pray every day that you will find someone lovely to do life with; a girl who will link arms with you in good times and bad, who’ll encourage and comfort and cheer you on. But until you find her, sweetheart, don’t give up. Don’t give up on friendship, or on the other girls, or on yourself. When you find that precious girlfriend who understands you, who accepts you and loves you it will be worth all the troubles.
Remember, you are loveable. You are precious and unique and special. You are beautiful, inside and out, and you are loved.
There is no-one like you. Don’t compare yourself with anyone, because you don’t know what it feels like to be them. Just be yourself. You were created to be you, just where you are right now, surrounded by the people you’re with. There is no mistake. It’s all in His hands. He’s watching over you so, so carefully, and He will keep you safe.
And I’ll help. I’ll be there in the morning, waiting by the gates in case you turn around for another wave. I’ll be there when you come out, negotiating my own way among the grown up girls who chat and gossip in groups just as they did in this same playground when I was in your shoes. All day my mind will return to you, my lovely, and I’ll wonder who you’re sitting with in class, whether there’ll be anything you like for lunch, who you’re playing with in the playground.
I’ll be talking to Jesus about you and asking Him to hold you close, to help you, and He’ll be saying to me, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got her.’
He’s got you.