The Empty Seat in Kindergarten This Year

IMG_0100August.

Back-to-school ads play on the TV and radio.  The stores have devoted giant sections to school supplies.  Kids wait with excitement (or perhaps dread) for their class placements.

Very soon, the schools will be filled with students walking down the freshly shined floors to new classrooms, new beginnings.  Through those busy hallways, the little kindergarteners will find their way like tiny fish in a fast current, half-swimming, half being carried away.  Perhaps their boisterous nature is good-naturedly corralled by a teacher, maybe they are clutching their mom’s hand, eyes brimming with tears.   One way or another, they will find their desks, put their things away, and look around to the faces of their peers, wondering what this year will hold, each of them filling a small chair, full of potential.

During this beautifully crazy scene, what none of them realize is that there is an empty chair.

A chair that held that same potential.  One that was supposed to hold a little girl with brown hair.

Five years ago, when Callie passed away, I had coffee with a friend who had lost her son.  We talked about how hard all those ‘firsts’ are without your baby.  First Christmas….what should have been her first birthday… and so on.  But what I wasn’t expecting to hear was that there are other hard ‘firsts’ that stretch well beyond that first year of grieving.  At that time, her son should have been getting ready to enter Kindergarten and it was an especially painful reminder of all that she had lost.  I remember not really being able to fathom what I would feel like in five years.  I was only able to go one day at a time.

But now, we are here.

With the wave of Kindergarten registration in the spring and now back-to-school mania in August, I am once again feeling that sinking drop in my gut, that punch and twist in my belly.

I wake up in the middle of the night wondering what things would have been like, dying to know what it feels like to send your child to Kindergarten on a big yellow school bus.

They say that when you go to Heaven, you are whole and healed.  What does that mean for my sweet Callie?  I ask God this all the time.  Would she have Marfan syndrome still?  I guess I won’t know until I see her when my time is up, but I think the answer is yes.  Yes, because Marfan syndrome was written into her genes, God’s blueprints for us.  That was his intentional design for her, not an accident.

But I do believe that, up in heaven, the hard parts about having neonatal Marfan syndrome are gone.  {Marfan syndrome can be subtle and not detected until later in life -if at all!- or very severe, like for our sweet girl.}  I just know that, in heaven, her heart is strong, her sight is perfect, her spine is straight as an arrow, her hands and long fingers move freely without any contraction, and she is able to run, walk, and play with all the other angels.

If she had lived, what would school have been like for Callie?

Would people have stared at her because she looked different?  Would kids have been cruel and called her names?  How would she have felt during recess or PE, knowing that she would not have been able to participate in the same way as her friends?

She would have had to be strong and so would we.

I won’t lie.  Sometimes, I thank God for sparing her all of the pain of this world.  But then other times, I get mad at him for not giving her the chance to prove herself.  I know with every fiber of my being that she would have kicked major ass in school if she had just had the chance.

Back in the Kindergarten classroom, the teachers are wondering what this year will hold too. They have prepared, planned, and prepped some more. The long hours of creating, doing, dreaming, checking lists (only to make more!), has led them to this day.  In kindergarten, you can bet that teacher is giving hugs, wiping a tear, smiling, singing, and somehow getting 20+ five-year-olds to do what she needs them to do. In short, she is performing magic.

Does she know that there is an empty seat in her classroom?

One that should have been filled with a tall and thin little girl, with brown eyes behind glasses.  One whose left hand doesn’t open up quite all the way, but who is incredibly smart.  Maybe she needs help getting around a little bit (a walker perhaps?) but still she sits in that chair, eager to please, ready to make friends, just like the rest of her classmates.  I’d like to think that her personality is sweet and that she follows all the rules (especially since her mom and dad have their hands full with her sassy, independent sisters).

Would her teachers have seen her for the amazing person that she would have been?   Would they have believed in her?  Would they have treated her differently?

We will never know.

And the not knowing is so incredibly painful right now.

All I can do is daydream and wonder.

But also hope…

…hope that because of that empty seat, a teacher this year will work that much harder to help a student who looks different or learns differently.

…hope that because of that empty seat, a child will be an includer instead of an excluder.

…hope that because of that empty seat, a parent will take that extra deep breath with their Kindergartner and give a few extra hugs.  (And at the very least, won’t complain about school supplies).

…hope that because of that empty seat, a stranger will make the world a brighter place by doing an act of kindness (donating school supplies, maybe?).

All because of that empty seat.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Empty Seat in Kindergarten This Year

  1. That was so beautiful, Kristin. I had just seen a 60 Minutes segment on parents who had lost children at Sandy Hook and it was very moving. They commented that people don’t realize and say things like the grief must be getting a lot easier to bear and they said it will never go away but many of them are educating teachers and students to recognize and report students with potential problems like the young man who killed all of those in NewTown.

    I have been amazed at how much good you and John have started as a tribute to Callie both with the Marfans society and the Kindness for Callie project. Your faith has been amazing and we love and admire you both so much.

  2. Hugs to you. ❤️ I promise that when I look at all the new students this year, I WILL remember Callie and all the other children of friends and myself who never got to hit that next milestone. Always remembered. Always loved. Always missed.

  3. You know how much I love this because I immediately texted you, but I just have to comment on here too:) This post is wonderful – there needs to be awareness on so many levels – loss, disability, inclusion, remembrance, so much…thanks for always being an inspiration and in 4 years when I am in these shoes, I know who I can always go to for support. xoxo.

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