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Cute Little Black Boys Do Grow Up To Be Black Men, PART II — And Now, They Are Ten

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Owen & Kyle, Fall 2014, age 10

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Today, we are dealing with the Ferguson decision. It is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.

Today, I received a steady little flow of email from around the world, telling me how much my blog posts over the years are helping to navigate the rocky terrain of thinking through — and talking through with others — the Ferguson decision. That’s pretty humbling in the face of my own uncertainty.

Today, I picked up my beautiful boys from school (4th grade! times two!), sat with them to do their homework (long division! similes and metaphors!), made them a favorite dinner (salmon! green beans!), and tucked them into bed. Each day is such a blessing.

Today, my son Owen saw the front page of the New York Times and asked me, point blank: “Was the guy who was killed black or white?” I had to say, “Black.” If you could have seen the look on his gorgeous soft brown face, you would have felt just as sick to your stomach as I did in that moment. He knows. If you loved my boy — even a little bit — then the look in his deep dark eyes would have tortured your heart and soul just as much as it did mine. I swear it. You’d be inhuman to not feel the pain of it.

Five years ago I wrote this post:

CLICK TO READ HERE http://johnson-mccormick.com/2009/07/cute-little-black-boys-do-grow-up-to-be-black-men/

The summer that I wrote that, Kyle and Owen were five years old. Gosh, they were cute at age five! And as toddlers?! Oh my goodness gracious land sakes alive, they were so very, very downright undeniably adorable! I could not get through an aisle of the grocery store with my two-too-cute-toddlers without at least one (but usually several) people stopping me to “ooooh!” and “aaaah!” over my sweet baby boys. Everyone (not just me) thought they were “ADORABLE!!!” The fact is, they were.

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Today, they are ten. When you read the post from 2009 you will understand the significance of ten.

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Ten year old twin boys. Here we are. They are all energy all the time. They are larger than life. They are AMAZING. They are getting a handle on the world. And, just as we knew it would, sure enough, the world is getting a handle on them.

It is hard, this thing. We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t help. It is like a storm that you know is rolling in. You first just hear the forecast (and maybe wonder if it is true), then you feel it brewing in the air (and know it is to be), then you see it with your very own eyes (the sky turns grey, the clouds take over, the wind starts whipping). You can get ready, you can prepare, if you are lucky (or privileged, as the case may be) then you can even take cover (we are privileged; we work hard to provide as much shelter as every single resource available to us will allow). You can hunker down and you can do everything right. But it doesn’t stop the storm from coming. It just rolls right in. It is bigger than us. It is more powerful than us. We are just there, relatively defenseless to its forces, attempting to cope as best we can. Hoping we are still standing for it to leave us in its wake.

That’s how it feels right now, at ten.

Right now, I’m just hoping and praying and wishing and trying-to-believe that we’ll somehow be the lucky ones — the parents of black boys who are lucky enough to watch them grow up and still be standing in its wake some day. I’m scared to hope for too much, but maybe someday we’ll be talking together about the challenges of raising their children, our grandchildren.

For now, for today, we are just trying to get through this. This period of time when we watch as our precious sons grow out of being cute little black boys in the eyes of the world. They grow up to be black men. Trust me, it is hard to watch.

In some ways, like all ten-year-olds, they are still so little.

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Except, that they are not.

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In addition to being ten, Kyle and Owen are big. They are just about the same height as me, and their feet are bigger than mine. They wear size 14 clothes, and their strong, athletic muscles are rippling.

We’ve hit the turning point. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve witnessed it first-hand. Over the past several months my sweet little adorable babies went from being perceived as just that, to being perceived just as I’ve long dreaded.

It has started.

I’ve been in the store and watched from a short distance as they’ve been followed. (Yes, already.)

I’ve heard it over the intercom system: “Security Alert. Section C. Security Alert.” (Yes, already.)

I’ve stood behind them as they’ve been stopped in line, being perfectly obedient, but being questioned. (Yes, already.)

I’ve watched as they’ve been wrongly accused. As the worst has been wrongly assumed. As the fault has been wrongly blamed.

The looks. The hesitation. The ever-so-slight facial expressions. The too-quick-to-judge.

It has only just begun.

It doesn’t matter that they go to an elite private school.

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It doesn’t matter that they are straight-A students.

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It doesn’t matter that they have white parents.

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It doesn’t matter that they are well-travelled, worldly, well-dressed, polished, polite, poised. It doesn’t matter that their vocabulary is incredibly well-developed, that they have eaten in fine restaurants, have met famous authors, have seen world-class performances, know the names of the classic European composers and philosophers, know how to shake a hand and look someone in the eye and use their best manners when needed. It doesn’t matter that they are cloaked with class privilege and all of the advantages that go with it.

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It doesn’t matter that they are gorgeous and charming and organically charismatic. It doesn’t matter that they are gifted and talented and have off-the-chart-IQs and that the world should be their oyster. It doesn’t matter. Still, they are followed, suspected, questioned, accused, judged, and — yes, already — feared. They are black. They are ten.

Maybe you think I’m crazy to say this. Maybe. Maybe you should try being the mother of ten-year-old black boys for a little while, and then see what you think.

You can’t write me off as an “angry black woman” because I’m not black. I am angry. And I am a woman. But I’ll tell you this: I’m white, I grew up around white people, I know white culture, I am embedded in whiteness. And what I see, feel, witness, and experience… it is real. If there is anything I know, it is that I know this is real. You can’t tell me it isn’t true because I am an insider and I know it is true.

My sons, no matter how authentically fantastic they are, are still black. They can’t get away with experimenting with how they dress, and they definitely can’t play with guns (at least not outside the walls of our home; their safe space, their oasis).

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We can’t let them experiment too much, we can’t let them take many chances. We don’t have that luxury. Because they’re black. We have to tell them the truth: you’ll be judged quicker, you’ll be perceived more harshly, keep your hands out of your pockets, keep your hood down, no fast movements, never run, racism exists and it isn’t to be messed around with. We’ve got your back, but even we can only do so much. We are limited in how much we can protect you. No matter how much we try, no matter how much we love you, no matter how precious you are to us, no matter.

My sons are growing up to be black men. And they need to be prepared for what they could (almost certainly, will) encounter. We’d be gravely, woefully, unforgivingly failing them if we weren’t to prepare them for reality. At ten, they are in process. And it is heart-wrenching. Because I know the truth. I know that even though they’re black boys sporting hard-core bball jerseys, with biceps that are already popping, and locs that are getting long, they are also sweet, kitten-loving, nurturing, fragile spirits with hearts and souls of pure gold.

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I know that even though they are ten-year-old black boys, they are still my babies.

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But the world doesn’t see them as I do. No matter how perfectly they present themselves, no matter how spectacular they are, they will be disproportionately extremely LESS SAFE than if they were white. Kyle and Owen’s stellar reputations and hard-earned achievements and family-privilege will not necessarily get them as far as they choose or could go. Because the world might just choose for them and against them — in ways that would simply not occur if they were white. That is what it means to be entangled in structural, entrenched, historic, and systemic racism. No amount of privilege — or charm, or charisma, or pure raw talent — can protect them from the fact that they are black boys.

In this way, despite how extraordinary they are, despite their stunning life stories, despite all that they have going for them, they are no different than any other black boy.

Today is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.

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Football and Friends — and Another Season Over

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I am pretty sure that when Kyle and Owen are adults, looking back on their childhoods, one of their fondest childhood memories will be Lehigh football games.

They’ve been going for their whole lives. We have never bought a ticketed seat. We get in for free with my faculty ID, and we sit on the grass at the end zone. The boys always bring a football, and they run around with a wild pack of other kids, tumbling around on the grass, rolling around the hill, tackling each other, and playing full-contact-football. They take breaks to check out what is happening on the actual field every once in a while, or to try to catch the ball in the end zone as it is kicked for a field goal. They take breaks to say hello to folks they know (Braydon and I are always socializing with friends and students and alum). They take breaks to ask for help finding napkins to deal with bloody noses, or to ask for ice to deal with gashed up knees and elbows, or to ask for an endless stream of cash to go buy junk food and sugary drinks from the vendors. But mainly, they spend the entire time rolling around on the grass, jumping all over each other, and acting like little maniacs (who are quickly becoming big maniacs). They love it. It is quite the awesome way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

At the center of it all is always their friends James and William. They’ve been playing together at these games for at least 8 years. They are steady companions at these games — and they also have been going to the same school together for the past several years (including the move from one private school to another; which is really quite something). These four boys will not forget their falls spent at Lehigh football games together — that, I am sure of.

These pictures — as James and William’s mom said — “tell a whole story.” They really do.

Saturday was the last home football game of Lehigh’s regular season. Lehigh played Colgate and won. It was a good ending to the season, but we were very melancholy about the end of a another era. The boys had a great time, as always. And I marveled at the longevity of our families’ friendship and the bond of our four boys that has pulled us together for so many seasons of football games on that end zone grass. All of the grass stains and blood stains and ketchup stains are so worth it for the fun that we’ve had and the good friends that we’ve made.

Boys: I hope you always know fun times and good friends — times that are light and full and raucous, and friends who are true and spontaneous and easy.

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Playdate with Cameron & Natalie (on playing with twins)

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Meera’s friends Cameron and Natalie are twins. They came over for a playdate a few weeks ago. They are sweet, nice, fun girls and the threesome had a lot of fun. (I also could not get over how well-mannered, polite, and centered these two girls are — a major testament to their parents! Raising twins is hard, and this mom and dad is doing a great job!). A highlight of the playdate was “playdate popcorn” (our traditional playdate snack) — and these three girls ate the entire bowl in no-time-flat.

Watching the three of them together made me think a lot about what it must be for other families when Kyle and Owen go for a playdate with a singleton. Twins are something really special, and different, and challenging. We’ve had twins over to play with Kyle and Owen, but this was our first playdate with twins who came over to play with Meera. It was striking to me how Meera interacts so naturally with them — for Meera, as a younger sibling of twins, twinship seems to be something she organically understands, in an authentic way that even seems foreign to me. Playing with twins is its own special category of play (we know that all too well, as a family with twins ourselves), but for Meera it seemed almost effortless. It was interesting for me to witness.

It was so fun to see these three girls play together.

First Grade: Meera & Chloe

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Meera has been thriving in first grade. This shouldn’t be a surprise, except that it sort of is. Up until this point, Meera hasn’t been a kid who really loves school, and she’s always needed a lot of alone-time and down-time and at-home-time. But this year she’s just loving school, and really taking off academically, and I think it is in large part because her self-confidence is blooming and her social life is good.

She’s got some good girl friends in her class this year — the kind of girl friends a mom like me really appreciates: girls who don’t seem to be catty or cliquey or possessive or aggressive. This is huge (girls can be so hard). And I see the beautiful results of it in Meera’s sense of self and self-esteem.

She’s got a new friend this year who is just a great pal for her. Chloe does wonders for Meera’s love-of-school. These two cuties are two peas in a pod and they get in trouble daily for their shenanigans. They talk too much, giggle too much, and generally get-distracted-from-class too much when they are near each other. I went on a field trip with them last week and I got to see it in action. It is quite a hoot (as long as you’re not their teacher!)!

I hope they stay friends for a good long time. I have a hunch they might. So, I’m posting this for the sake of posterity.

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Sayre Halloween 2014 & Halloween 2014

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Last year was the most amazing Halloween ever — as the students who live in Sayre Village with us put on an incredible night of trick-or-treating for our three bambinos, organized and orchestrated by the bambinos’ beloved Uncle Jon (aka our 2nd-year-on-campus-Head-Gryphon). [CLICK HERE.] Oh my word, was that Sayre Halloween 2013 ever fabulous. And the year before was absolutely FABULOUSO as well! Sayre Halloween 2012 we were dealing with a major weather event (Hurricane Sandy!), and yet somehow our bambinos received the most wonderful Halloween planned entirely by their beloved Aunt Sarah (aka our 1st-year-on-campus-Head-Gryphon). [CLICK HERE.] My, oh my, that was a wonderful Halloween.

There’s a pattern going here: Amazing Halloweens on campus!

Sayre Halloween has become my favorite night of the year as a faculty family in residence!

So, the precedent had been set, and a tradition had been established on campus, and 2014 did not disappoint! Our incredible community of students-we-love, and our 3rd-year-on-campus-Head-Gryphon-Jevin made — for the 3rd year in a row — an awesome and memorable and incredibly-inspiring Halloween for our bambinos yet again. This year the bambinos trick-or-treated throughout Sayre (150 students opening up their apartments in the three buildings that make up Sayre Village; the students love it— it is usually the first time they’ve been the ‘adults’ handing out the candy to kids from their own place). In addition, Kyle and Owen and Meera were invited to trick-or-treat at two other houses on “The Hill” — Umoja House and House 104. It was an AMAZING night! Amazing, amazing, amazing! Words just don’t do this whole thing justice. The students just amaze me beyond belief.

This year we planned for, and hosted, a Pumpkin Carving Party for post-trick-or-treating. We invited Sayre students to come over for cider, pizza, candy, and pumpkin-carving. The World Series was on… so there was some watching-of-that going on too. We roasted pumpkin seeds. We ate pizza (Man oh man, college students can eat! They devoured 8 large pizzas and several gallons of cider!). It was SUCH a GREAT night!!!

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Facebook status post: “Tonight is trick-or-treating in our very own neighborhood (campus)! Incredible for me to witness this experience— totally 100% student-organized Halloween for our 3 bambinos (and only for our 3 bambinos; they are the only campus kids)! Trick-or-treating at the residence halls… An amazing thing for a professor to get to do. This is one of my favorite nights of the year of living on campus!— at Lehigh University.

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After Spooktacular 2014, and Sayre Halloween 2014, it was finally October 31st, 2014 — and by that time I was just about all Halloween’ed out. But, alas, there was still Halloween 2014 to do. There were the bambinos’ school Halloween parties and their school Halloween Parade…

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…and then there was actual Halloween night.

That night we went to our friends, The Reeds, house — they live in a perfect trick-or-treating neighborhood right on the edge of campus. We had pizza and hung out with them and by the time it was dark and trick-or-treating time I was just about 100% spent. I took only one picture that night, but it pretty much sums up the entire experience:

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Facebook status post: “This Elsa costume got a LOT of use over the past couple of weeks. And this mama is officially done with the whole extravaganza that is Halloween “season.” Sugar highs. Sugar lows. Done and done. Halloween 2014 over and out!”

The next morning — November 1, 2014 — I went to work and rid every square inch of our entire apartment of everything-and-anything Halloween-related. Including the HUGE amount of candy that the bambinos had acquired over the entire Halloween season. This, for sure, is a perk of living in a dorm with a Residential Fellow family:
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It was amazing how fast that candy disappeared!

Mommy & Meera Go To Dinner at the Kappa Delta House

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A few weeks ago, we had the students of Kappa Delta over to our apartment for a Mocktail Party. It was a great event, and — among other things — I ended up being asked by the sorority to be their faculty advisor (to which I agreed), and they also reciprocated our invitation by inviting us to their house for dinner. I decided that Meera and I would take them up on the dinner invite, and leave the “boys” of our family at home for the evening.

I had never (in my life!) been inside a sorority (although, Meera has actually been in a few!), and I was so excited for the night. Meera and I decided to bring them a painted canvas, just like the ones they had brought us when they came to our apartment. I got Meera set up, but she did the entire thing herself, and was really proud of it. We gave it to the Kappa Deltas upon our arrival to their (beautiful) sorority house — and then we had a delicious dinner (seriously, they have an AMAZING chef!). After dinner we were treated to a tour of their house (which I, of course, found absolutely fascinating!).

The funniest part was that Meera was very distressed that none of their beds were made— so she went through the sorority room-by-room making their beds for them! Soooooo funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We later received an email from the sorority president with a photo of Meera’s canvas (along with her 1st grade school photo, which we had also given them), displayed in the entrance foyer of the sorority house! Too cute!

KD

A morning in the tree house

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The second half of last week Heather was out of town at a conference for work.  The kids had Friday off from school and I took the day off too.  We watched a family movie on Thursday night to kick off the weekend.

On Saturday morning, I had planned to have lunch in the treehouse. When the rest of our plans got switched around it turned into breakfast. And breakfast meant the muffins Heather had made.

The funny thing was that in the morning, all three kids had no interest in going to the tree house and actively resisted.  Now, I say it was interesting like that’s somehow unusual that they would resist a suggestion.  It’s not – it’s only unusual that I would be the one making the suggestion and putting into action. I did eventually drag them out there and guess what?  They LOVED it.  Every second.  You can see it.

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In our life, Heather has the role of Program Planner. That means she takes on all the coordination of what we do – socializing, activities, things like packing breakfast for a tree house picnic. That’s layered on top of her overwhelming work (I saw her calendar for the last week – 30min-2hour meetings back to back, without break from the start of the day until the end – oh yes, and teaching 200 students, serving on committees, and planning her next book). That layered on top of being responsible for our food and school care.  It’s truly the second (and maybe third and fourth) shift that she takes.  I don’t even know if that really captures it.

I am very lucky.  I am lucky that I get to have the whole package – a wife with an important career (I love that) and I a wife who gives us a rich, filling, healthy life (and I love that too).  On the off-occasion that I am the program planner, I get a little glimpse into her world.

When I look at this picture, and I see the delight of these three of having that breakfast in the tree house, what I see is how lucky I am for what Heather has given us.

A day in the tree house having muffins is so much more than that. It’s the accumulation of effort of 10 years of love. A brief note of recognition and appreciation.

There is no particular reason I posted this, other than sometimes, for those of us who are less expressive than we should be, it needs to be said.

Spooktacular 2014

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Yesterday was Lehigh’s Spooktacular, a major event hosted by Lehigh’s Community Service Office, and spear-headed by our friend Carolina Hernandez. It is such an amazing event! The bambinos have looked forward to this all year, and it did not disappoint! Games, crafts, food, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, pumpkin-carving, and lots and lots of attention from so many awesome Lehigh student volunteers. A spectacular Spooktacular 2014!!!

P.S. This year Kyle is Percy Jackson; Meera is Elsa; and Owen is a Star Wars Sith!

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Mocktail Party with Kappa Delta

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We’ve been hosting a ton of events at our home since we moved back in for this academic year. The renovation of the apartment has made the space so perfect for inviting people in, and we’ve been really maximizing it. In the past 7 weeks, we’ve hosted 8 different events.

Tonight, though, we had what I think was my favorite event in our entire time of living on campus. I know, for sure, it was Meera’s favorite. We invited the wonderful young women of Kappa Delta sorority for a study break/“Mocktail Party.” It was so enjoyable and lovely and warm and fuzzy and inspiring and uplifting. We have relationships with a bunch of these women (some of whom lived in Sayre with us last year; some of whom have been students of mine), and I’ve always been super impressed with them. But it was awesome to have them all together in our home. I cannot tell you how inspiring it is for me to see these smart, ambitious, beautiful young women taking on the world. I loved every minute of the event!

Meera was thrilled-beyond-thrilled to have a home full of “girls.” For a long stretch there was serious drawing/coloring going on. Meera was in heaven!

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But the cutest thing of all was the hostess-gift they brought for me/us:

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It was such a fabulous experience! I haven’t been blogging, but I don’t want to forget about this one.

Yes, at some point, I’ll post about the renovation!

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Oh goodness gracious! I have been flooded with email requesting that I post about the apartment renovation!!! You all, my dear readers, are such a wonderful and loyal bunch! Thank you for caring. Yes, ok, yes, at some point I will do a big post on the apartment renovation! (I have about a million photos of the whole thing; it will just take me a while to work my way through that project.) But yes, it will happen. Thanks y’all!

The Blogging Blues

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Well, folks, I’ll be honest: I’m having a really hard time blogging this academic year.

You know, I started this blog on October 11, 2006. That was exactly 8 years ago yesterday. It was also, not coincidentally, the exact month that my first book came out in print. I say, “not coincidentally,” because I had finished that project and was needing a major creative outlet. The blog became that for me in many ways. A lot has happened since then (including a second edition of that book, due out later this year).

I’ve had ebbs and flows in my blogging over all these years — times when I’ve blogged a lot, and times when I’ve blogged a little less, but I’ve been pretty consistent at it, and I’ve found myself compelled to do it, and I’ve enjoyed it. But these past couple of months — in particular, these past couple of weeks — I just don’t have it in me.

And I know why it is. It is because I’m working on some other things that are consuming my creative energy. I have a couple of projects going right now that are really acting as my creative outlet. I can’t say how long this will last, but I have decided that I’m going to (for once in my life!) cut myself a break and not beat myself up over it. I know I’m disappointing a lot of readers by not being regular with my blogging. I feel really bad about that. But right now, I need to devote my energies to some other things. I’m sorry.

But the thing is — these other things I’m working on are really exciting for me! I am really needing to focus on them. So, for the time being, I’ll just be frank: my blogging will be spotty at best. I won’t be consistent. My posts may be few and far between. But I will hopefully put some stuff up from time to time for the sake of keeping it going and not ending it entirely. I don’t know if maybe sometime soon I’ll have the compulsion to blog regularly and frequently and consistently and in-depth again (Braydon thinks I will). For now, I just don’t want to feel badly about my lack of doing it. So, I’m trying to take the pressure off by just letting y’all know what is going on here in Never-A-Dull-Moment-Land.

Speaking of creative outlets…

Meera continues to draw/paint/color every single day. And I love that about her. She’s a girl after my own heart — a girl who needs to express herself. I am happy for her, and I’m happy to see her expressions. Above is a drawing she did yesterday. This marks a major milestone in that, for the very first time, she’s drawn something with 3-dimensional perspective. The person (who is, as labeled, [spelled phonetically by Meera], Sacagawea) is standing in the foreground with the mountain peaks behind her. This is a big step for our girl. [Note: she also signed her name both “Meera” and “Maira,” which is, according to her, her “Spanish name.” ???] Anyway…. I wanted to post this drawing because it is a big deal for our little Artist. She was 100% unaware that she had done this special 3-D thing… which is, really, the coolest part of all. She’s just developing, without being too self-conscious of herself. I wish I could say the same about me.

Thanks for reading everyone. Please keep checking back. I am here, just slightly pre-occupied.

~Heather

Quote of the Day re: mean girls

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Today, after school/work, I was making dinner in the kitchen while Meera sat at the counter coloring and talking to me about her day. She was telling me about something really mean that two girls did to her at lunch today (classic girlie exclusive behavior where the two were purposefully leaving Meera out of a snippy-nasty little game they were playing). After telling me her achey-heart lunchtime story from today, Meera waited for my reaction~~~

Heather: Girls can be so mean.

Meera: I know! And that’s what I’m gonna have to live through for the rest of my life!

Despite the fact that I know (both from direct first-hand personal experience growing up as a girl myself, and from all the research I’ve read on the topic) that this sort of thing is — unfortunately — totally typical, it nonetheless makes my heart ache for my girl. First grade is tough stuff. And the actual school work is just the tip of the iceberg.