Monday, June 1, 2009

My Job Restrictions

A few weeks ago Ash, my four year old, came home from junior kindergarden with a note from his teacher, they were looking for parent's to come in and discuss their job to the 60 kindergarden students at the school. Ash wondered if I would go, he wanted me to talk to the class about how I helped people to stop crying. I read the note from the teacher, it was a generic letter to all parents, the class was doing a unit on people in the community and they wanted all different types of jobs to come in and speak, the examples were police officers, firefighters, secretary, etc.
I was hesitant about volunteering, I am very comfortable speaking in public but I was not sure how to explain my job to children. I don't remember ever explaining it in detail to Ash and yet his assumptions of my job were quite sweet.
I had just attended a conference that discussed speaking with children about death and how important it was to include them in the conversations. I subscribed to this belief and I could apply it to this opportunity to talk with 4-6 year olds about my job. I decided to tell the children that when someone dies, the people who loved them are very sad and sometimes need help to feel better and that by talking and sharing with me, it is a start to them coping. I wrote the teacher a short note, letting her know the organization that I worked for, my position and what I could talk about and asked that she get back to me if she would like me to speak.
It was a week before I received a response and it came in the form of a letter penned on very pretty paper, this is what it said:

Thank you for so kindly offering to speak to the Kindergarden class about your job. Although I am sure that your job is important for the families that you serve, the principal and I do not feel the topic of death is an appropriate one for 4-6 year olds.

Thank you Again

I read the letter quite a few times, trying to pen a response, I wish that the
topic of death were not appropriate for 4-6 year olds. I know one 4 year
old in her class who has first hand experience with the topic of death and I was sure there was more. It struck me that it was the teacher and the principal that were not comfortable with the topic of death and I felt sad for them. Death is so much more difficult to handle when its very existence is denied. I guess that is part of my job, to educate and normalize people to grief and the part of my job that comes with restrictions is that some people will not want to know that I exist.


  1. My brain has a weird schizophrenic-delay response to stuff like this: first comes an emotionally-charged reaction; later comes a rational, sensible response. If I'm lucky, I'll catch myself before I act on the initial response!

    So when I first read this I was totally outraged! HOLY MISSED OPPORTUNITY, BATMAN. Who better to speak to these kids, especially armed with your new learning, to be able to help them to understand what happens in grief? Why should we shy away from the subject? Who does the teacher think s/he is; just because you're not an astronaut / fireman / stunt double doesn't mean you don't have anything valuable to impart to the little ones, especially on such an important subject.

    But then I thought: OPPORTUNITY NICELY SIDESTEPPED? Death and all the craziness that surrounds it is such a personal journey, isn't it? Lots of families have their own explanations, their own traditions, their own beliefs, etc. and they might wish to handle 'The Subject' in their own time, in their own way. It might be a bit too big of a subject, especially out of context for kids so little. It's a tragic consequence and quite a shame that parents don't address it more directly with their children, but I have to say I'm a little relieved for you.

    In a lot of ways you may have just had a lucky escape, you know. Imagine the scandal that may have ensued? That's a mighty big can of worms, girl. It is the biggest pity in the world that parents are so uncomfortable with the topic that they just opt out of it altogether, but it would be an even bigger pity if you got yourself into hot water for broaching the subject and ignorant parents, getting the wrong end of the stick, villified you for it.

  2. Isn't it amazing what adults assume children can and can't handle? I think 4-6 year olds are the perfect age to begin discussing these things with. So sorry you had that experience.

    BTW, your blog looks great. Sorry its taken me so long to get here. Its those end-of-year days. Killing me. Soon though, I will have kids home full time! Ugh, never a balance it seems...

  3. Well Melis what can I say...I mean seriously you should have just volunteered to do the presentation and described the importance in the recognition of death and the meaning of your job, first hand...then watched the teacher’s face afterwards while you post a play-by-play on You Tube with a notion reading 'Grim Reaper in 21st Century Classroom' lol then again, you might have been sent to the principle's office for that one ;)

    The irony is almost classic, as I’m sure in their minds they were shielding the children. You are absolutely right in saying that it was the teacher and principle who were not comfortable with the topic rather than the potential of the children ever being. And yes, how sad for them. I wonder if they think The Lion King or Bambi is inappropriate for 4-6 year olds to watch as well. Children are children, but they are still people who are a part of this world and must make their way through it and all that it encompasses.

    “Because I could not stop for Death,
    He kindly stopped for me.
    The Carriage held but just ourselves
    And Immortality”
    ~Emily Dickinson