When we moved here, to our new little town, a few years ago, we did so on a whim. Though I had loved living in this area before Sam and I got married, I never looked at it as a Forever Home. Especially after we were married and had our kids, I thought we were settled. I never thought we'd come back to this place I once loved. But Sam had an opportunity to take his job "remote" and set up an office space just about wherever we wanted. We jumped on the chance to, well, take a chance. We found a beautiful neighborhood at the foot of some gorgeous mountains, down the road from an adorable little downtown, in a district where the schools were rumored to be quite good. We were sold.
We didn't realize how important this move would be until recently...after our new house had been broken in a bit, after our new gardens had time to fill in a bit, and after our little family had a chance to make some important connections here. It felt like home, yes, but more than that, it felt Meant To Be.
Though we didn't know it at the time, our move was most important for Max.
I'm not saying that Max, and all of his sparkle, would not have been accepted in our old neighborhood, or in what would have been his school. He very well may have been...we never had a chance to need to know; he didn't express his gender-nonconformity until after our move. But here, in this cozy little place, with familiar faces wherever we go and a liberal, open-minded atmosphere, Max is accepted and adored, just as he is.
But he is about to embark on a new adventure, one that for even the most typical child can be challenging: Max is going to Kindergarten.
Sam and I requested a meeting with the Principal of the elementary school that Max will be attending in the fall. We wanted to break the ice and introduce them to Max, through our descriptions of his personality, strengths, and penchant for all things fancy, beautiful, and twirly. We wanted to express some concerns we had about sending Max, our sparkly little rainbow fish, to this vast and potentially scary ocean of bigger fish. We don't foresee any specific issues--Max is ready for kindergarten academically and emotionally. He is very socially active and will thrive in our school's very creative and play-based kindergarten environment. We just wanted to start the conversation...to be proactive...to advocate for our little boy.
I emailed the Principal an outline of issues we wanted to address during our meeting:
1) Though we would not typically request a certain teacher for our child, we would like Max to be placed with a Kindergarten teacher with a particular personality strength; someone who excels at creating an inclusive classroom community. We want him to begin his elementary school tenure feeling accepted as part of the group.
2) What can we do, as a team, to help ensure a safe school environment for Max and, to a possibly equal degree, for his big brother, Evan?
3) We would like for all members of the staff who will be working with Max (classroom teacher, resource teachers, administrative personnel, support staff, etc.) to have an opportunity to attend a meeting during which gender-nonconformity can be explained and any questions can be answered (either by us or by the administration acting on our behalf). We want Max to start the school year with a team of adults who already understand him and are ready to support him. We would also like these adults to be sensitive to certain situations that could be stressful or confusing for a kid like Max; things like, dividing the class by Girls and Boys or assigning projects or performance roles based on gender.
4) Finally, please let us know if you have any questions about Max or gender-nonconformity.
Sam and I met with both the Principal and the Guidance Counselor and it could not have gone any better. I realized, after the fact, that all I really wanted to hear was, "We understand. We got this. You don't have to worry."
We talked for thirty minutes. I told them all about Max (and stole a chance to brag about what an awesome kid he is). The Principal told me about her previous experience working with kids at virtually all points on the gender spectrum. The Guidance Counselor provided a crash course on the K-2 Guidance Program, which begins with lessons on What Makes Me Different Makes Me Special and broadens to include topics like bullying prevention and building self-esteem. I voiced some of the concerns I had, and they were met with solid plans, for example: there is already a system in place to "brief" teachers and staff on unique student situations, so Max will be on the list. There were a few tears shed...in part because talking about challenges my kids may face makes me emotional...but mostly, it was relief. I had the reassurance I needed: Everything is going to be okay.
As we were leaving, the Principal looked at me and said, "So we'll meet again before school starts. As a Team--the four of us and his classroom teacher--we'll continue the conversation we started today. We'll see where we are and we'll decide how to get to where we need to be. But in the meantime, for the next six months, just enjoy Max. You don't have to worry about Kindergarten."
And now, I won't.
When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked us to write down our favorite words as an inspiration assignment for our poetry unit. At the top of my list was serendipity.
We're already where we need to be.