Third Grade is for Third Graders

Though I try to write with a greater focus on the role of books throughout this website, sometimes there are stories, mini-books if you will, happening right in my backyard that are so important to me to write down and remember that I just can’t help but tell you about them. This is one:

Third Grade

Our 8-year old broke down in tears just a couple of days into this new school year. She had spent the night with my wonderfully accessible mom, who speaks and listens to her grandchildren with a focus and presence that is unlike most anything I have ever seen between an adult and a child. And I think her grandchildren know this about her and so save up at least some of their worries and fears and concerns and anxieties just for her.

My mother is a notoriously early riser and can make breakfast for one or one-hundred at the drop of a hat, and one grandchild in her home is all the encouragement she needs to be up and going and cooking and reading and talking and listening on any given morning. On this particular morning, she and our youngest had just ended the perfect grandchild meal and were talking about school. All seemed well and my mother left the room to put on her makeup. Then, without a bit of warning, she heard the unmistakable sound of tears. She ran into the kitchen and there was this child, this third-grader, this creative, curly-headed, smart, funny, energetic little person bawling her eyes out.

When my mom asked what was wrong, the words from her granddaughter came fast and furious and with such a pained expression that the world simply had to stop for a minute…and, of course, that’s when a world-class conversation between an adult and a child ensued:

“I’ll never be able to do third grade work,” she said. “I just know it…”

“What makes you say that honey?”

“There are just so many things that are different about this year. There’s math and spelling words and vocabulary definitions and and and…,” she was crying too hard to continue her list of worries.

“Well,” said grandma, “third grade has only just begun. This first week is just giving you a roadmap for the year ahead. But more importantly, if you already knew how to do third grade work, you would be in the fourth grade.”

That was it, the one sentence my daughter needed to hear. My mother knew her granddaughter, for she recognized the simple and clear logic that was needed in that discussion. She also knows this little girl very well and so knew it fit her personality. That 60-second conversation nearly immediately stopped her tears and squashed her anxieties. She was so relieved to hear that third grade is for third graders!

Her tears stopped and her smile returned and they were off to school and a new teacher and a new classroom and third grade – just the place she was meant to be.