Teach Him Gently
August, 2007

Years ago, when my son, Jim, started Kindergarten, I made it back
to the car, after depositing him in his new classroom, before the
tears started to flow.  When I got home, I called my mother and
sobbed into the phone, "He's just a baby and I won't be there if he
needs me."  Because she was my opposite in personality and not
the emotional person I am, I was certain she would tell me what I
needed to hear, like, for goodness sakes, get a grip.  But, instead,
she cried, too.  So much for being stalwart where a child's first
day of school is concerned.  We cried together for several
minutes, then we hung up and both cried some more.

When I picked up my son that afternoon, I put make-up over the
red blotches under my eyes and rehearsed the explanation of
why he had to go back the next day, even though it had been an
unhappy experience, and how it would get much better as time
went on.  When he climbed into the car, his first words were,
"That was fun!!  Can I come back tomorrow?"

Tomorrow will be my 3 year old granddaughter Sarah's first day of
pre-school.  That funny little knot's returned to the pit of my
stomach and I recall it's just like the one I had the night before
Jim started Kindergarten.  And, I keep thinking to myself that
really is just a baby and she's never been left with
strangers before...and wishing that my mother was still here, so
we could have a good cry together tomorrow morning.  And, also,
hoping that when Sarah's mom brings her over tomorrow
afternoon, her first words to me will be, "That was fun!  And I get
to go back tomorrow!"

~  ~  ~
The following is from a Clarence Doucet column that appeared in  
The Times-Picayune newspaper many years ago.  I clipped it and
saved it because it was so touching.  I haven't looked at it in years,
but Sarah's first day of preschool triggered its memory for me and I
went in search of it and, remarkably (considering my lack of
organization), I found it.
It's still touching.

~  ~  ~
Son, Jim, and friend, 1st day of Kindergarten
Sarah's Excellent Streetcar Ride

Whispers - Home

Old New Orleans
~  ~  ~
 Teach him gently - if you can.
 My young son is just starting school.  It will be strange and
new for awhile, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently.  
Up to now, he's been our little boy.
 He's been boss of the backyard.  His mother has always been
around to repair his wounds, and his father's always been
handy to soothe his feelings.  But now things will be different.
 He walked down the front steps, waved his hand goodbye and
started on the great adventure - an adventure that will probably
include wars, tragedy and sorrow.
 To live his life in the world will require faith and love and
courage, so, world, I wish you would sort of take him by his
young hand and teach him the things he will have to know.  
Teach him...but, gently, if you can.
 He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just; that all
men are not true.  But teach him also that for every scoundrel,
there is a hero.  Teach him this:  for every enemy, there is a
 It will take time, world, I know, but teach him, if you can, that a
nickel earned is of far more value than a dollar found.  Teach
him to learn to lose - and to enjoy winning.  Steer him away from
envy, if you can, and teach him the secret of quiet laughter.
 Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest people to
defeat.  Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books.  But also
give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in
the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on a green hillside.
 In school, world, teach him it is far more honorable to fail than
to cheat.  Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if
everyone tells him they are wrong.  Teach him to be gentle with
gentle people; tough with tough people.
 Try to give him the strength not to follow the crowd just
because everyone else is getting on the bandwagon.  Teach
him to listen to all men - but teach him to filter all he hears
through a screen of truth and take only the good that comes
 Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob - and to stand
and fight if he thinks he is right.  Treat him gently, world, but
don't coddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel.
 Teach him, if you can, to laugh when he is sad.  Teach him
there is no shame in tears.  Teach him there can be glory in
failure and despair in success.
 Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much
sweetness.  Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the
highest bidder, but never to put a price tag on his heart and
 Give him the courage to be impatient - let him have the
patience to be brave.  Teach him always to have sublime faith in
himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in
 It's a big order, world, but see what you can do.  He's such a
fine little fellow, my son.

According to Mr. Doucet, the author of this piece was unknown.
Granddaughter, Sarah, and her pre-school teacher