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That first day back to school.

When I was a child, the thought of backpacks, No. 2 pencils, and riding my ten-speed (it was hot pink with sparkles) back to class filled me with so much excitement that, frankly, some nights it was hard to sleep. The prospect of starting anew was invigorating.

Now that I'm a parent, that upcoming milestone still fills me with eager anticipation, but admittedly, a bit of trepidation, as well.

You see, I'm still new at this. My oldest child, Luka, just turned seven years old.

You want tips to battle the terrible twos? The tantrum threes? How to design and keep a schedule? I'm your girl. But boy, after Luka's first day of kindergarten last year, I acknowledged a valuable lesson: As a parent, I truly have a lot to learn.

On the eve of his first day of school, we had a big talk with our 'sunny boy.' Luka is everyone's friend -- take him to a random park, and he'll come home knowing every other child's name. As parents, it makes Bradley and me so proud. So we talked with Luka about how much fun he'd have making new friends, and that he be sure to extend himself to other kids who may feel more shy that monumental first day.

He solemnly nodded and promised he would. We were set to go.

Fast forward to that 'dreaded dropoff' the first day of kindergarten and -- success! No tears for Luka and -surprisingly - none shed from Mommy and Daddy. We felt good. But at pickup that afternoon, that happy bubble burst.

Sure, Luka came home with tales of cafeteria living, exciting school lessons, and a wonderful new teacher. But he also let it slip that during recess, he asked two classmates if he could play with them, and they said no. THEY. SAID. NO.

In the blink of an eye, all of Luka's positive comments about his day plummeted off a cliff. Reason left the building, and in walked something that resembled a feral mamma-bear meets helicopter mom. I saw red. I wanted names and numbers.

Yet, I couldn't expose that reaction to my son. Like all parents, I just wanted to 'fix it.' And fast. But what was the proper, calm response to deal with his hurt feelings without revealing my own? How could I make him feel secure, confident, and self-assured, when I was feeling anything but that? Not knowing the answers in that exact moment felt like an epic parental fail.

For the rest of the week, whenever 10:35 a.m. recess approached, I'd clutch. I dreaded recess. Was he making friends? Was he being or feeling rejected?

I confess this helicopter mom was tempted to power up the rotor blades and spy on him during recess. But I didn't. I swear, I didn't. But I wanted to.

The thing is, I recall it all so well. Do you remember your own childhood struggles like it was just yesterday? I certainly do; that particular brand of hurt and embarrassment is somehow still fresh. And like so many other moms and dads, I just instinctively want to save my children from experiencing those feelings.

But, as parents, can we? Should we? Or are those very struggles - be they social or academic - ultimately meant to strengthen them and to hone their character?

As for our initial foray into playground politics, we tried not to make too much of a big deal about it. Luka ultimately seemed to be enjoying his new school, so we didn't want to impose our insecurities on him. Instead, we discussed coping strategies if the situation recurs, like constructively voicing his feelings to others, or perhaps starting his own game or asking someone else to play.

Over time, Luka cultivated connections. Recess and I became friendly again. But as we prepare to welcome a new school year, I can't help but wonder: What new lessons will I learn as a parent as Luka learns in the classroom? And what will be the best way to guide my son so that he will truly thrive?

They're thoughts to endlessly ponder as I journey - and sometimes blunder - through parenthood. God bless it.

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