A Thank-You Missed

I was hanging out with a friend today and we started talking about research. Specifically, we talked about research on birth order, birth month and how when you are born in the year can impact your academic success. I told him that a long time ago I heard something about assertive tendencies in first borns and I stopped listening actively when the topic came up. I figured the die had been cast a long time ago.

But as we talked I shared the story of my own first-born. When she was four and getting ready to head into kindergarten she got assessed as part of a young fives program in our school district. I was certain from the get-go that the assessment would validate that my smart, talented child would be more than ready to start school. I sat back and waited, already planning what the year would be like for her and for me.

And then I got the call. The nice woman on the other side of the phone told me that the assessment indicated she would be a good fit for young fives, in advance of starting kindergarten the following year.

I still remember that conversation. I was stunned as I explained to the woman how important education was to me. I told her that I had two degrees and that I couldn’t imagine what academic readiness my daughter was missing to start kindergarten. She couldn’t possibly get behind her peers. In my head I heard judgement repeating over and over, “You let her down. She’s not ready. You let her down. She’s not ready. You let her down…”

But that isn’t what the woman told me. She told me that academic cut-offs were arbitrary and because of the month my daughter was born and the academic calendars in the United States she would either be one of the oldest kids or one of the youngest kids in her class. She told me my daughter had passed the academic tests with flying colors, but when they looked at risk-taking behaviors she had acted more like a four-year old than a five-year old. And then she told me the thing that made it clear: it’s not a problem in first or second grade, the problems come later in middle and high school. The problems come when they are sixteen and starting to drive.

We put her in young fives.

So, as I was telling that story to my friend I shared how much I have appreciated that advice since that day. I have seen over the years how being one of the older girls in her peer group has helped my daughter navigate her way through difficult situations. I watched her emerge, triumphant, through the hardest part of adolescence with her personality and confidence intact. And yes, now that she is going to learn how to drive, I feel better knowing she’s the one who will be behind the wheel, as weird as that sounds. And after I shared that story my friend looked at me and asked a question.

He asked, “Did you ever tell her thank-you?”

I had to tell him no. I don’t even know the name of the woman who helped me navigate one of the earliest and most challenging decisions of my daughter’s academic life. I’ve never thanked her and I haven’t been able to tell her how many times I have looked back and been appreciative that she was patient with me, that she listened and offered guidance for nearly an hour on one day more than 10 years ago. For her it was just another day, just one more talk with one more parent, but for me it was pivotal.  

I am sure I said thank-you then, but there is no way I could have conveyed in my thanks then what it would mean to me now. Then, it was just a thank-you for her time, but now it would be a thank-you for results. And it’s just too bad that I don’t have a way to reach out and let her know that taking the time to walk an overanxious parent through it truly mattered. I wish I had a way to let her know she made a difference.

Because all we really want to do is make a difference.