Kindergarten -- The First Two Weeks

>> Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dearest Elizabeth,

I was wrong. Kindergarten sucks.

I know. You probably find that surprising, seeing as how I promoted it so heavily for the last few years. But sometimes parents make mistakes. And I have made a big, big mistake.

What’s so bad about kindergarten? Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure exactly. There are certain things I would change, that’s for sure. For instance, I don’t like that you are one small student in a group of twenty with only one teacher. At preschool, you had four teachers. I guess I’ve become spoiled.

I also don’t like that your classroom is in a trailer (so common here in California) and not part of an actual building. In my day (, I mean in Virginia), every classroom was in a building... with rooms... and bathrooms. Imagine that. Your building seems more like an afterthought. But again, that’s common here in CA.

I don’t like that no one watches what you eat during lunch. Sometimes I open your Spider Man lunch box and see you’ve barely eaten your sandwich or you didn’t drink your juice box during snack. Aren’t you hungry? Thirsty? When I ask your kindergarten teacher how you are doing, all I get is “Fine, she’s doing fine...” What I want is a thorough summation of your daily activities -- what are you learning, do you raise your hand or talk during circle time, do you pick your nose or find a tissue, are you making friends, are the kids nice to you, are you happy...

(I sometimes fantasize about secretly installing video cameras in your classroom so I can obsessively watch your every move -- not to find fault, of course, but just to observe you, like watching a sea star travel from rock to rock at the tide pools...)

I try to learn more about your day. But hours of interrogating you at home produces scant results -- one day you made a ginger bread man... the next you learned how to sign “I forgot.” I get this a lot. Now, instead of your voice I get the hand-swipe across the forehead. What did you learn today, honey? Swipe...

Ugh. Is this why I’m on the verge of tears? It all seems trivial when I write it down.

I just want to take you and Samantha and Daddy and...I don’t away with you. I want to kidnap you and take long, meandering walks with you in the country. I want to dally over spider webs, count the petals of a flower, hunt moths. I know this doesn’t sound like me at all, always rushing and urging you to move faster. But inside I want everything to slow down. Slow way, way down.

The kids in your class seem so different from preschool, too. I miss all those round little Asian faces and the European accents. I want you to remain as comfortable with diversity as you are now. You often tell us that one day you’re going to move to China and speak Spanish. I like that about you.

There’s something else, though, something I didn’t mention about kindergarten. I think I tried to deny it because kindergarten was inevitable. It was like a tornado barreling towards us with nowhere to run and since we couldn’t avoid it, I tried to make the best of it. Hey, let’s head down to the old bomb shelter, light some candles and tell stories. It’ll be fun -- like a sleep-over! I’ll bring popcorn...

But the truth is, Kindergarten is dangerous.

Granted, I’m having a really horrible day. I could cry for a week. But remember that girl at the Welcome Back to School party? Remember how you went up to her, said ‘hi,’ and showed her your bracelets? Remember how she just turned and walked away without acknowledging you at all? More importantly, do you remember how you reacted? It didn’t bother you at all. You just skipped off happily singing “la-dee-da” and shaking your butt. But one day it will bother you. One day you’ll start to doubt yourself. You’ll wonder if there’s anything wrong with you. You’ll wonder if it’s your fault that some people treat you so coldly.

But trust me -- there is nothing wrong with you. You are perfect. Absolutely, wonderfully perfect.

And that’s what’s wrong with kindergarten.

You are going to change.

You’ll probably stop wearing pink shirts with orange shorts and rainbow-colored socks because you’ll see they “don’t match.” You may stop collecting insects and twigs. You may switch from Incredible Hulk underwear to (sigh) Hannah Montana underwear. And I don’t know if I can take that. It’s all too much.

I met one of your classmates’ mom the other day. Knowing how hard this transition has been for me, I asked her how she was doing. I assumed she was going through the same hell and I generously gave her the opportunity to vent a little.

“Oh, fine!” she replied.

Fine?! Really? You’re really fine? How is that possible? Don’t you know? Can’t you see what’s ahead? Your daughter is leaving you!

There’s a scene in When Harry Met Sally where Sally is crying and Harry asks her what’s wrong and she laments, “I’m turning 40!”

“When?” he asks.

“Someday!” she sobs.

That’s how I feel. I look at you, I see you’re going to kindergarten, and suddenly I realize it’s all true. Everything anyone ever said about you growing up, becoming an adult, and leaving home is all true.

I didn’t really believe it until now, but it’s true. And that positively kills me. I thought I wanted to enjoy family life, raise some good citizens and enjoy future grandchildren. But I don’t -- well, not completely. I want you to stay as you are and I want our family to stay the same forever. And...and... I want you to grow up, become a good citizen, and have children. Is that so much to ask?

I guess this is yet another little death in a series of little deaths that go hand-in-hand with parenting.

One of the first little deaths that hit me hard was when you decided to stop breast-feeding at 7 months. Until that week, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I longed to be the sole owner of my ta-tas. I yearned to wear t-shirts and not worry that I would glance down to see two wet discs where my nipples were. And I hated the pump. If you want to feel like an object, use a breast-pump and you’ll know what I mean.

But then it was over. And it was all I could do to keep from shoving my boobs in your face and saying, “Here. How about a suck for old times sake, huh?”

I slept with your baby blanket for a week. I was mourning. I was mourning the end of that little nip-sucking baby -- the You that you were at that particular time of your life.

And that’s why it’s so hard now. My little toddler girl is gone. You are a big kindergartner now and changing in small ways all the time. But please believe me -- despite my uncharacteristic drama and minor exaggerations, the new You is just as perfect, just as absolutely wonderful, as the old you.

In fact, your greatness is just about the only thing holding me together right now. You are so funny and smart and quirky. When we were tired after work the other day, you had the wherewithal to make us sandwiches for dinner. You have a laundry list of projects you want to work on in the coming weeks including, but not limited to, building an island, building a school, becoming a teacher, and having a birthday party for two of your 100 invisible children. You rock on every level.


Which, I suppose, proves that this is indeed no death at all, but merely a transformation, one of many you will go through in your lifetime. Looking at you, watching you laugh and draw, hearing your endless chatter, it’s clear that this life is a miracle and full of joy -- if only I can see it through this veil of tears. Alas, I dare not mourn too long and risk missing the You that is Now.

I wonder, how many butterflies will you become -- and how many caterpillars will I mourn?


Mom :)


Lunasea September 21, 2008 at 10:12 PM  

:::sniff::: Oh, this describes it perfectly. It's so bittersweet to watch them grow up.

Bookdiva September 22, 2008 at 12:04 PM  

Wow, OK, I'm depressed now.

Garrison Keillor says having children is the opposite of every other relationship, because it begins as intimate as it can possibly be and then you slowly grow away from each other.

I think first days are such a trauma because growing up (and away from us) is supposed to be a slow, gradual process, but first days are a giant jump forward and a real jolt to the system. Luckily, Rory's KG was wonderful and she was happy, but I still cried for a week. I was terrified of what would happen when other kids started to be mean to her. Imagine my relief (and pride) when she told me one day that someone made fun of her for something and she shrugged it off, saying, "I don't care what they think. I know better." How long can she keep that up? I'm crossing my fingers.

And I'm clinging to Riley as hard as I can, and once she's in KG I plan to get a dog.

Don Mills Diva September 22, 2008 at 12:06 PM  

Perfect post.

Absolutely perfect post.

Dawn September 27, 2008 at 3:35 AM this what it's like? I'm not ready for this.

Daelyn, you're staying 4. Always.


CRYSTAL AND EMMA September 28, 2008 at 6:12 PM  

This is an awesome post! I cried and knew exactly what you were talking about! Yeah, that pump is just brutal! I missed it though. It was like I threw away my heart when I finally got rid of it. You know, I actually held on to it for awhile. Like Emma was going to change her mind or something.

Love the post,

mimi of 'sexagenarian and the city',  September 29, 2008 at 5:44 PM  

oh dear, are they really in a _trailer_ ? i'd be upset, too. i hope E is enjoying herself in spite of that.

Keturah October 1, 2008 at 8:11 AM  

This post made me cry.

Really lovely and real.

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