My daughter is seven—and three quarters. Old for her grade because of a September birthday, she starts second grade this August. But it feels like about a minute ago that I picked her up from her last day of preschool. It was a small place just for educators’ kids. On employees’ last day of work for the year, we were let out early, so I headed straight over to get her. When I peered through the glass of the door, my heart seized up, and my eyes burned. I blinked back tears so I wouldn’t appear totally unstable. I had walked into nap time. Lights dimmed, lullaby music danced through the air in that way that makes you picture a little spinning ballerina. There she was, sound asleep on her cot with her blankie.
As a mom already lamenting the approach of “real” school? It was the worst thing I could have walked in on— a sweet moment that I knew would likely never be duplicated in the cold, hard walls of a maximum security kindergarten. I had a good silent cry as I apologized to one of the teachers for my lunacy. She hugged me and said she understood. Then I picked up my heart and carried her out the door along with all of the belongings she had accumulated during the year—drawings, stickers, writing journals…
I know why I melted down. Early childhood had been kind to Sabrina and to us. We led a charmed life with cozy daycares in a relatively small world. We were about to enter a much bigger one where teachers would have 20 students instead of 8. Our school district is a growing one where elementary schools have numbers upward of 700 in grades K-5. Who would love on her? What kinds of terrible words and ideas would she bring home? And how would she get special one-on-one days with grandparents once the state was keeping a record of her absences? Once she walked into the door of the school, she would be swept away from me in an unstoppable current of rules, learning standards, test scores, and peer influence. It made sense. It makes sense.
On the other hand…I admittedly look at my childhood through rose-colored glasses, but the fact that I DO look through those glasses still must mean that things were good. Oh, I experienced the odd run-in with a mean boy and unhealthy friend triangles even then, but on the whole? I still look back on it as an innocent time with no real worries. And I was in public school. In fact, I had about a year less to prepare for it than my own daughter—birthday cutoffs being different back then. And it was still a very happy time for me. So why should I have looked at her going to school as such a negative?
We got through kindergarten. In all honesty, it wasn’t the kindergarten of my childhood. Class was all day, every day, 8:30-3:30. A “beach towel for rest time” was listed as one of our required school supplies, but by week two, I was conferencing with her teacher and sending a follow-up email to the principal for clarification on “rest time.” She came home crying every day, and one day said, with those huge brown eyes filling up over and over, “I don’t know why they even had us bring those beach towels, because they don’t give us any rest time.” And they really didn’t, or they made it optional, or something like that. It wasn’t the rest time of 1986. I know that.
Once we got past that tough first week of kindergarten, however, the craziest part was keeping up with the dress up days. (Word of advice: plan for a 50’s day and a “dress like you’re 100” day.) Of course, the social part—especially with girls—where we know it can get so vicious and we’re trying to nip it early, is a nail-biter. She didn’t make a best friend, and I didn’t get a chance to get to know the parents of the other kids the way I hoped I would.
But here’s another thing that didn’t happen: my girl didn’t come home with one dirty word, one “we’ll talk about it when you’re a little older” question, or one foul gesture that may have sent my tender heart running to the hills of the nearest homeschool tutorial. In fact, two years in—still nothing. My little girl grew out of all the clothes that I thought would stretch to the next year. She learned math concepts I don’t understand. But she is still…little. When she’s sleepy or feeling sentimental, she’ll watch “Caillou” with her little sisters. When other kids tell her that Santa isn’t real, she still thinks they are nuts and that they’ll “definitely be on the naughty list.” Happy sigh…
I know it won’t last forever. Children grow up. Eventually, her friends will influence her more than I will, and she’ll be the one telling me, “Mom, I can’t stay home today. We’re reviewing for an exam…” I’ll have to put off our mother-daughter time till another day. But for now, I rest easy. And my hope for any parents getting ready to send their kids off to “big kid school” for the first time is that it’s bittersweet—just like it was for me. I hope the earliest years have been blessed enough that you hate to see the chapter end, but that the glimmers of what your children are on their way to becoming outshine anything that used to be.