I’m Not Ready, But You Are

I am not ready for this day just on the horizon, but you are. Tonight, I watched you open and close your new lunchbox over a dozen times. You call it a “lunch pail” and it makes me smile every time. You love your new Frozen backpack and often put it on to show me “it fits so perfectly.” While we were at Target, you excitedly showed other shoppers your new crayons and pencils. When I saw that Target’s summer section was replaced by school supplies, my eyes filled with tears. Other moms smiled at me and nodded hello as their 5th and 6th graders picked out binders. They knew, they remembered. I had five summers to prepare for this, but I still wasn’t ready.

For five summers, I knew this one would be our fastest yet. You were only minutes old when my mom looked at you and said to me, “Before you know it, she will be leaving for her first day of kindergarten.” I’ve thought about those words almost every day. Your grandma has been right about a million things, and those words are some of the truest she has ever said.

I watched you and your little sister fall asleep for a nap on Sunday. I curled up on your beanbag, my eyes filling with tears while I listened to you breathe. I realized this was our last weekend of these Sunday naps we shared for five years. “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” stared back at me from your bookshelf. I know you’re going places, girl. I know. I’m going to be here cheering you on every step of the way.

There’s so much I have left to show you, to teach you. We need to work on mastering those shoe laces and the loose pony tail the way you like it. We need to work on jumping jacks. While my mind is full of things I’m worried that you might not be ready for, I realize it’s me that isn’t ready. I’m not ready for quiet days without you here. I’m not ready for the day you don’t ask for the race car shopping carts at the grocery store. I’m not ready for the first time you don’t want a hug and a kiss good-bye. I’m just not ready for how incredibly much I’m going to miss hanging out with you. I’m not ready, but you are.

I am so excited to share you with the world. This is the end of an era for me, but the beginning of a new one for you. Those days somehow turned into years and now it’s time to send you out in this world.

You’re one of the most incredible kids I’ve ever known. You are a constant happiness in a world that sometimes isn’t. You care so deeply about everyone else. For your 5th birthday, you asked me to buy food for people who might not have any. You think about everyone else before yourself. You are the greatest big sister to ever be on this earth. You are so exceptionally fun to hang out with. I’m not ready, but you are.

It seems that five is such a young age to release you to the world. Up until now, I’ve had a say in who you play with, who influences the things you say. I’ve helped select your meals and shaped the choices you’ve made. I’m a strong influence in how your likes became your likes. Now it’s up to you.

My heart is overcome by feelings I can’t explain. It is not lost on me how incredibly lucky I am that you get to embark on this childhood passage. We had a friend not come home from St. Jude. He should be starting school this fall, too. So while I am overwhelmed by how hard it will be for me to watch you wave from the playground, I am going to thank God for every second of this, of every moment I get to share with you.

My mind has not yet wrapped itself around how time can go so fast – I have a feeling it never will. I I love you, my sweet girl. You fascinate me every day. I’m not ready to watch that Frozen backpack march down the driveway on the first day, but you are.

Thanks for Raising an Awesome Little Human

My child met yours somewhere along the way. Maybe we met a few months into preschool or maybe when my oldest started first grade. Wherever it was, whenever it was, I thought you should know how much I appreciate you. I thought you should know that the child you are raising is pretty great, too.

Friendships at this age are the best. There are no politics or opinions passed down from others – there’s only favorite colors or a mutual love of princesses and superheroes. After our children’s first play date, I instantly saw what my daughter saw in your son. She saw a friend who was willing to take turns playing a game of her choosing. She saw a friend who held the door open for her and told her that she looked like a “rockstar” in her school picture. She saw a friend who used his manners and a friend who loves Hot Wheels as much as she does.

You have raised an exceptional little friend for my daughter. You have given her a friend she talks about on weekends and can’t wait to see on Monday morning. You have given her a friend whose birthday party she is as excited for as her own (and I can assure you, that is a lot of excitement). She was devastated when he wasn’t selected to be the classroom helper and prayed about it until it was his turn. Her heart loves his heart, and that makes me grateful for you.

When my kindergartner wanted to see your daughter on the weekend, I was more nervous than I ever had been in my life asking someone on a “date”. What if you said ‘no’? There would be two hearts broken in this household instead of one. I literally held my breath as I read your text. What a true relief it was to read that you’d love to get the girls together, a blind date arranged by 5-year-olds. We totally hit it off. I immediately could see how your sweet-natured daughter was a friend mine wanted to spend more time with than just in school.

Your daughter knows my daughter’s pets’ names and her favorite flavor Capri Sun. She knows what mine wants to be when she grows up and her next Halloween costume. She knows all of this and more because they love nothing more than just being together.

Thank you for raising such an awesome human. Thank you for being the parent who taught by example. Thank you for the lunch dates and the occasional text messages that suggest we get them together. Thank you for allowing my family into your family’s lives, I know how busy you are. Thank you for making their friendship a priority. Thank you for inviting us into your home on your precious weekends – I know exactly how valuable that weekend time is.

I hope they really are friends forever, so we can be, too. It’s hard to let your kids out into the world. It’s hard to worry about who will break her heart and why. But for today, I just see her happy. I see her spending this play date with a friend she adores, a friend very worthy of her adoration. It’s hard to let them choose their own friends, but I now see that mine have done a pretty great job of choosing some amazing friends to surround themselves with. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you and that I will forever be grateful for the awesome little human you have raised.

Sorry for your Loss

A friend from high school died this week. Everything we all hope to be, she already was. She left this world at 33, leaving behind so many who loved her fiercely.

I can’t count the number of funerals I have been to. I lost my dad at a young age. I have been to the funeral of my first prom date and to the funeral of a friend I had loved from the first day of kindergarten through graduation. I have watched friends carry the caskets of their babies. In my lifetime, I have experienced loss. We all have and we all will. The more loss I experience, the more I realize how difficult it can be to talk about grief.

I have never understood the phrase “So sorry for your loss.” Maybe it’s because I have experienced deep loss early in my life. Maybe it’s because I have dedicated the last 16 years of my life to studying expressive and receptive language. I love language and the power words can have on the world. Grief is hard to express, so incredibly hard. What if we found a way to express it in a way that others can understand? What if we found a way to say these words with depth and meaning?

I quit saying, “I’m sorry,” at funerals years ago. I know why people say it; they say it because at least it is something. It is acknowledging a loss, but ‘sorry’ is what I say to someone when I accidentally bump them with my shopping cart. I always felt that “Sorry for your loss,” would be fitting for a lost wallet, but not the love of your life or a parent you’ve never lived a day without.

When my dad died, I wanted someone to use words that made sense. I didn’t like the cliché sympathy card sayings. Actually, I couldn’t stand those sayings. Time wasn’t going to heal anything and while things might happen for a reason, I just wanted my dad back. My friends all had one and I didn’t understand why I was the one who didn’t.  I wanted someone to say, “I know what it’s like to miss him on this big milestone days, but to miss him even more every day in between.”  I wanted someone to say, “I know what it’s like to miss him when you drive by his office and his car isn’t there, but you still look just to make sure it’s not a bad dream. I know what it’s like to see a tie you know he would like, wishing you could buy it for him. I know what it’s like to watch your teammate’s dads walk into your volleyball game and you look up every time those doors open, even though your dad won’t be walking in.” The summer after high school, I sat next to my friend’s casket, alone in the funeral home before the visitation started. I wanted someone to acknowledge the way my heart hurt. I felt as if my heart had truly broken and “sorry for your loss” didn’t recognize that I would never hear his voice again. I wanted someone to say, “I know you are going to keep dialing his phone number for years to come, I’ve been there, too,” and “I know you’ll miss him all over again when there’s an inside joke or an event he was supposed to be at, and for a fleeting second you forget he isn’t here to share it.”

This week I will go to a funeral to say good-bye to one of the sweetest girls I ever knew. I was lucky to know her. I was lucky to call her a friend. I will tell her family that I loved her and that I will miss her. I will tell them that for years to come. I will make sure her husband knows that I will be cheering for their son at his future football games. I will make sure her best friends know I will be thinking of them when her birthday rolls around this fall and it’s the first year in 20 years that they haven’t spent it with her.

I wish that when people offered sympathy, the conversation would change. Rather than approaching someone to offer condolences, we would share a favorite memory and follow it with, “Moments like that are what I’m going to miss about him.” Maybe we could do more to check on grieving loved ones, not just in the days that follow, but in the months and years, too. The greatest thing we could do is not be afraid to mention their names. I love nothing more than hearing stories about my dad, whether I have heard them before or not. When you know there will never be a new memory, you never tire of the old ones. Maybe when we think of a grieving friend, we can actually take the time to let them know. When we say, “Sorry for your loss,” what we really mean to say is, “I’m sorry my life and schedule will resume when I leave this funeral, but your house will be dark and quiet when you return home. I’m sorry the household duties you once shared are now entirely up to you. I’m sorry that you’ll keep waiting for the sound of the garage door, wishing he would come walking through the door.” Maybe when we said, “I’m sorry,” we could find a way to really say it.

Grief is real and raw and deserves so much more than the empty cliché quotes. The memories we had left to make deserve to be said aloud.

It Takes a Village

I was in 7th grade when I lost my dad to cancer. As an only child, our home suddenly felt much quieter. It has been almost 20 years since that grey, February morning when we became a family of two.

My family are the people who were there for us during the 14-month cancer battle – and continued to be for 20 years, just like they said they would. My family are those whose actions I watched as I grew up.

My family is the couple who picked me up from school one cold January day when my dad was about to have his first brain surgery. Logistically, I had to stay behind as my parents went to Minnesota for this surgery. There were too many unknowns for me to make the trip with my parents. To this day, I cry when I think about seeing this couple walk into my school to pick me up. They told me we had a flight to catch. This moment was everything to a 12-year old girl who didn’t know if she would ever see her dad again. I still cry when I think about that drive to the airport and that quiet flight to Minneapolis. For twenty years, they have met up with me whether it be a quick trip home from college or a Sunday brunch. They were at all of those ‘big events’. They were there for those days in between, too. They never left our side. They sponsored my daughter’s junior golf program so she could learn one of her grandpa’s favorite hobbies.

My family is the woman who stayed with me during the numerous trips my parents took for surgeries and treatments. Taking in a middle school girl would not be an easy undertaking for anyone. She got me to those 6am basketball practices. She let me choose the radio station on those drives to school and somehow always knew when I just didn’t feel like talking.

My family is a couple I consider my ‘second parents’. He was one of my dad’s best friends. They have never missed one of my events, and in fact, drove my mom and me 762 miles to the National High School Rodeo Finals the summer I qualified. They have invited us to every holiday for as long as I can remember. They come to my daughters’ preschool programs. We call him “Papa Larry” just like his grandsons do. They moved us into my new house when the windchill was -4. Their son and daughter are the “sister and brother I never had”, except, I do have them. I’ve always had them. Sharing the same family name would not have made me love them more. 

My family is my best friend since sixth grade, who has been by my side through it all. She introduced me to the world of instant messenger in middle school. She made the best mixed CDs. From prom dress shopping to wedding dress shopping, we did it all together. We even joined motherhood just three months apart. The week after I filed for divorce, she gave me a stack of cards friends had sent to her from friends all of over the country. She reminded me I could – and I would, get through this, too. There is not a second of her friendship I have taken for granted. My family is her two little girls, who are the same age as my own, who are two of the most incredible little beings I know.

My family is my dear family friends, whose little girl was the first baby I held. She started high school this fall. Her mom was an inspiration for my profession. My high school and college years consisted of sitting around their kitchen table, whether it be to hear the latest or for life advice. Now I watch the way my little girls idolize Emily, and I am grateful for the love that has been shared through the generations.

My family are the friends who moved me out of my house in the pouring rain. They showed up with their trucks and horse trailers and started packing boxes. I was an unorganized mess, an emotional mess. They reminded me that things would get better. They were right.

My family are the college friends, those my daughters call “aunt so-and-so”. They are my sisters – and they are the most loyal friends you’ll find.

My family is the woman who has babysat my children for their entire lives. She was their stability when they needed it most. She taught them how to read. She shows them love and compassion in a way no one else can, because everything she does is done in kindness. She is everything to us.

My family is the boy who loved me when he was 17, and now again at age 31, he loves me even more. He builds us anything we ask for and doesn’t say ‘no’ when we find a new animal to take in to our petting zoo. He builds little houses for my pet pigs, the pet pigs I dreamed of having my entire life, the pet pigs he let me get. He is a coach, a mentor, a constant in our lives. They call him “our Casey”, because there is no categorical term for someone like him. He is not their dad, but they have opened their heart to him. How lucky these little girls are to be loved by so many people.

My family whose bloodlines I share, they are pretty incredible, too. Our time together is few and far between, but I thank God for them and those occasional weekends we get to share. My other family, the ones whose paths I cross every day, they could never know what they mean to me. They could never understand the ways in which their actions have impacted my life.

As a girl, I quickly realized it takes a village. Our joys and our sadness and the days in between are filled with love. As a mom, I understand it in an entirely new way, in the kind of way you can’t possibly understand until you are packing up a life to start again. I appreciate these people in the way That can’t be explained. These are the people who promise you that you can get from here to there, even when you can’t see it yet. They are my family.

The Mama Cat Who Raised my Orphaned Kittens

This is a story about two kittens who needed to be saved and a mama cat who needed a home. This is a story about a series of events with wonderful people and complete strangers doing what they could to help two kittens make it.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to rescue animals. I had an incredible childhood that included dozens of pets. I made a promise to myself that someday, in adulthood, I would adopt animals that needed a home. In theory, it sounded wonderful. What I wasn’t prepared for was the expense, the hard decisions, the commitment and the heartache that would go with it.

Over the past few years, we accumulated quite an assortment, including Patsy Cline, a sweet and shy white barn cat. She preferred to stay in the barn, but in recent months, she would let me know she was at the door at night. I would be up late rocking the baby watching Friends, and she sat next to my chair eating a snack. We both loved the company. Her kittens were born in April and my little girls were so excited to learn kittens were in our barn. Two days after they were born, my husband came in from chores with grim news. Patsy was hurt and a decision had to be made. After two phone calls to vets, we decided we couldn’t let her suffer anymore. I went out to the barn to tell her good-bye, sobbing as she looked at me. I thanked her for her companionship during my late nights and I told her how much I was going to miss her. I promised her I would do all that I could to save her kittens. My own baby had been saved six months earlier by the NICU team. It had been a particularly emotional few months in our home. When it came to these kittens, I was not going to let nature win.

My husband brought the tiny kittens inside. I immediately posted on social media and reached out to several rescue groups looking for a foster mom cat. I knew it was a shot in the dark, but I was desperate. A stranger responded that she had a cat whose kittens had just left the previous day. Her only stipulation was that I adopt her cat. Her landlord had agreed to let her keep it until the kittens had found homes and now it was time for her to re-home the cat. I absolutely did not want another cat and knew the stress of moving into our chaotic home would not be ideal when trying to convince this cat to raise a litter that was not hers. I also knew I was running out of time.

I drove across town to pick up the cat. I learned that this mama cat had belonged to the woman’s grandmother, who had died a few months earlier. The cat’s name, a word I cannot spell, meant “unwanted” in Lakota. My eyes filled with tears as she told me how much she loved this cat and how grateful she was that it would be moving to a good home. I understood all too well the bond you can have with a pet when it is your link to a lost loved one. I promised her that her cat would be well loved and cared for. I then stopped at Pet Smart to stock up on orphaned kitten essentials.

When I returned home, my hope of love at first sight was immediately demolished. She wanted nothing to do with the kittens, growling out of irritation. I didn’t blame her. Our home had two little girls and a baby boy. It was a strange place and she had lost the only home she had known. I again tried to find another foster mom cat. In the meantime, I was doing what I could to keep the kittens alive. If you have ever taken care of orphaned kittens, you know exactly the amount of work that is required to bottle feed and stimulate them and keep them warm. The next day, a friend of a friend offered her cat as a foster trial and I drove straight there. Her kittens were approximately four weeks old and we hoped this first-time mama would be okay with two add-ons. She immediately let them latch on and I cried tears of relief. However, the relief was short lived as the woman texted me early the next morning to tell me her cat had rejected my kittens.

Again, I posted on social media asking for help. A stranger, Jennifer, a local cat rescuer, contacted me. She was willing to meet to give me some supplies, such as better nipples and a scale. We both left work to meet. My friend, Kristina, a teacher, had offered to help me bottle feed the kittens as she was on spring break. She was willing to spend her coveted spring break doing the countless things these kittens would require while I was at work. (I spend my days doing home visits and our April in South Dakota was cold and snowy, making it impossible for them to stay warm in my car.) The three of us met at a gas station. I sat there in amazement, listening to a stranger give us a kitten 101 lesson and a tote of supplies. People can be so amazing. Jennifer told me she thought these kittens might make it and I believed her because I wanted to. I spent the next week caring for the kittens around the clock and dropping them off with Kristina during those first few days while I worked. Kitten duty on top of full-time, self-employed working mom life was exhausting.

It was around the fifth day at our house that “Unwanted”, who we had renamed “Mama Kitty” (due to our inability to pronounce her beautiful Lakota name) decided to check out the kittens. It was as if she had decided I was failing miserably at doing all that was necessary to keep them alive. She walked over to the kittens and laid down, letting them latch on. I thanked her as I watched her start licking them. From that moment on, Mama Kitty took over. She had spent ten weeks raising her last litter and she did not know these kittens, but she knew they needed her. I continued to bottle feed the kittens regularly, not knowing if she had enough milk to feed them. One morning, I woke up to Mama Kitty dropping two starving, loud kittens next to my bed. She sat there, staring at me as if to say, “It’s your turn, Lady. I finished the night shift.”

The first time I offered them canned food, she sat next to them, letting them eat first. I have since noticed, every time I feed them. she lets them eat first. Some evenings when they are particularly wild, she throws them down with her paw and holds them there until they decide to use their manners. She is not afraid to put them in their place. When she needs a break from them, she sits outside their pen with my little girls, enjoying being doted on but always keeping a watchful eye on the kittens. When my baby cries, Mama Kitty comes quickly down the hallway, concern in her eyes for what he might need. She cares so much for everyone in our home.

The kittens are now eight weeks old and thriving. The female is white like her mom and named Patsy Cline Junior (“PJ” ) in her memory. The male is orange like his dad and named Merle Haggard Junior (“MJ”) in his memory. They each remind me so much of their parents. I think about that day I said good-bye to their biological mom, and I like to think she knows I kept my promise. I think about the day Mama Kitty had to say good-bye to the only family and home she knew, and I hope her family knows she is still loved and well cared for. I think about the stranger who gave me the materials they needed, a friend who gave me her time, and my mom who was willing to kitten-sit when my chaotic schedule or the cold temperatures made it impossible in my workday. I think about the dozens of people on social media who helped me find a mama cat, that unexpectedly became one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever owned. The kittens’ survival depended on each and every person in their story. Many life lessons were learned by my family over the course of the past eight weeks. Although her name meant “unwanted”, God made sure she would find her way to a home – and two tiny little beings – that needed her the most.

Twenty Years

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This week will mark the 20th year since I lost my dad. I can’t wrap my mind around that concept. The days and weeks and years just continue to keep going. February 9th creeps up on us every year and suddenly one day you realize this year means two decades.

I was thirteen years old when his glioblastoma took him away from us. My friends were spending that winter of our 7th grade year excited about seeing the Titanic a dozen times or comparing Backstreet Boys to Hanson. I was making frequent trips to the rehab hospital, grateful for those afternoons after school when I could stop in and see him and we would watch a syndicated show together. We could sit in silence and know that just being together was enough, because those afternoons in that hospital room would be as close as we would get to normal.

It is incredible to me what our memory is able to retain and what it chooses to let go. I can’t remember what I wore yesterday, but I can tell you everything about that cold February morning when he left. Every single thing. I can tell you what the sky looked like that morning and hear the voice of the hospice nurse say, “Time of death…” I can remember calling my best childhood friend and telling her the news in such a matter-of-fact way, because it seemed like I should tell someone. I remember writing a note for my dad as quickly as I could, because that’s what 7th grade girls do, but this one would be buried with him forever, so I had to make it count. I remember looking at the clothes my mom selected to take to the funeral home. I remember the funeral home arriving with an unmarked minivan, thinking this is not what minivans are for. On that first day, the day your life changes forever, you can’t possibly imagine all your life will consist of, this new life, and that’s a blessing. It would be too much.

I was 13 years old when he died. This means I’ve now lived far more years without him than I did with him. That being said, I realize how much love and commitment he put into my life in those short years. He went above and beyond to provide for his family. He was the guy everyone wanted to talk to when he entered a room. He was the guy who made everyone laugh. He absolutely adored my mom. He was the patient who brought the surgeons donuts on the morning of his brain surgery. He helped coach my teams and he drove us late through the night to get to horse shows. He treated everyone with respect and kindness, always offering a hand to those who could use it.

What I couldn’t have understood at age 13, is to what extent that year would change every aspect of my future. I would sit in the hospital room, fascinated by the speech-language pathologists and the way they seemed to work a magic, the way they could bring words out him even after the glioblastoma had taken his speech. Twenty years later, I became that speech pathologist. Twenty years later, I still remember what it feels like to be the family member as you hold your breath and pray your loved one could say something, anything of meaning to you. My dad had a love for Make-A-Wish. While in the university hospital, his roommate was a teenage boy also battling a glioblastoma. I sat on the floor in the hallway with tears pouring down my face as I listened to Make-A-Wish volunteers ask what he would like for a wish. Twenty years later, I have the honor of being a wish granter for this organization my dad loved so dearly.

At age 13, I couldn’t have understood what it is like to be a single mom. At age 30, I learned what it was like. Twenty years without a parent gives you a tremendous respect, the deepest appreciation for a mom who did it all – and mine absolutely did it all. After I became a mom, I had a realization that changed my life. Prior to parenthood, I had never thought about his perspective as he battled brain cancer. I thought of the memories I had yet to make with him, but I had never once thought about the memories he had yet to make with me. Twenty years ago I didn’t think about the decades of parenthood he hoped to experience, and the joys his future granddaughters would have brought him.

One of the most fascinating aspects of then and now is seeing how much his granddaughters share the traits and characteristics of a man they never met. My oldest has his frown when she’s deep in thought and his sense of humor. My youngest shares his passion for good-looking cowboy boots and a sharp suit coat. They both inherited his love for music, even the kind he loved in the 70’s. They both talk about him as if they knew him, as if they had the privilege of his pony rides and listening to his bedtime stories. They love him and they miss him, too, as if they somehow know how worthy he is of being missed.

The day a loved one leaves you, you can’t possibly prepare yourself for all of those milestones they’ll miss, the holidays that will seem so quiet. Yet, when they leave, you also have no idea how much their life is forever embedded in yours. You will one day find yourself grabbing a bag of candy he loved at the gas station or downloading a song you remember him singing to you on the way to school. You will one day realize you chose this career because of him. You will one day be volunteering for something he loved and you realize just how much you love it, too. I couldn’t change the outcome of his cancer, but I could change the outcome of my life without him. I could make sure he was remembered. I could make sure that the things he loved so much with his giving heart, would be honored. I don’t love all of these things only because he did, I love them because what was part of him innately became part of me.

This week will mark 7,300 days without him, which was over half of my life. What I have come to realize is it’s not just the day I want to think about him, honor him – it’s those minutes that have made up the 7,300 days. It’s the minutes that will make up the rest of my life and the lives of my little girls. It’s the way his life shaped every aspect of mine. When you lose a parent as a child, you have no idea how that will impact how you parent. You have a deeper understanding that these days aren’t promised.

One winter day, my parents left a doctor appointment and our plans were diverted. Life is a combination of moments and certain moments will change everything. We will live our moments with compassion and kindness. We will find humor even on the toughest days. These moments go too fast, whether we want them to or not, but we will make them count.

A Thank You to Her Teacher

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And just like that, today is the last day. Nine months ago I was packing her back pack with brand new school supplies, wondering how I was going to send her off to kindergarten. I stood on the playground, tears pouring down my face because I wasn’t ready for this first day of kindergarten – but she was ready. Today I will be standing on the playground, once again with tears, because this precious time went by too quickly. There were a thousand things she absolutely loved about kindergarten, but I know her favorite part (and my favorite part) was you. This week I realized that I never told you “thank you.” I don’t know how a parent can in the way a teacher deserves.

We first met you at open house the week before school started and I immediately knew you would be the type of teacher we would appreciate forever. It was during the first week of school when I started to understand just how amazing you are. While the students lined up for the day, you touched each one on the shoulder as you greeted them. Every single day. You noticed the anxious ones, the sad ones, and the ones who just weren’t acting like themselves. Somehow, already in the first couple of days, you just knew. If a student was having a tough morning, you quietly held her hand and walked her into the school hand-in-hand with you.

I got to know you as I volunteered in the lunch room. You, as well as the other kindergarten teachers, made sure your students were all ready for lunch before you went on your own lunch break, which had already started. You noticed who needed help with their ketchup packets and who forgot a spoon. I got to know you as I “volunteered” in the classroom, which we both know meant I was just a body in the room, you had it all handled. You let me be in there for me, not for you. Your baby would be moving on to middle school this year so you understood how quickly these days would go. You had a classroom of 24 kindergartners and never once did I hear you raise your voice. Never. Once. When you needed their attention, you tapped these chimes that worked like magic. Your class was not an easy one, but you sure made it look that way.

The one morning I forgot to pack a drink in her lunch, you helped her order a milk. You checked on her when she went home sick. You remembered the weekend she had a dance recital. You had 24 students and took the time to really know them. You kept track of their big things and their small things, because as a veteran kindergarten teacher, you know that the small things are the big things. I saw the way you listened, and I mean truly listened, every time your students had something to tell you. They always had so much – and I mean so much – to share with you. I loved the way you valued what they had to say. Maybe they were telling you about a weekend event or maybe they were telling you that “mom” has an “m” in it, either way their faces lit up and you knew what they had to say mattered to them, therefore, it mattered to you. I loved the way you made each and every one of your students feel so special. Being chosen as your helper was the ultimate honor for them. Somehow in the midst of all that you did for them, you also taught them. They learned how to read and they learned how to add. You helped them fall in love with school which is so crucial at the start.

I wish we could take you with us to the next 12 grades. I’ve had the entire school year to try to think of a way to thank you for what you did for those 24 kindergartners this year – and I still don’t have the words.

On the first day I had to hand her to the world, I thank God it was you that I could hand her to. I thank God that you were there for her – and for me – this year.

To all of the teachers in the world who are like you, I wish you knew how grateful parents are for you. We are in awe of what you do. We adore you, respect you, and appreciate you. We are so incredibly grateful for your influence. We don’t tell you enough – we probably don’t tell you ever. You’ll never fully know the impact you made on your families. Thank you for this year. Thank you for being a teacher we will remember forever.