Thursday, August 10, 2006


She walked into the classroom, son’s hand in hers, and looked at all the desks, searching for his name. Colorful and inviting, the walls were decorated and the room ready for its new students. Today was the kindergarten tea, a time for her son, along with his classmates, to see his classroom and to meet his teacher so that he would be more comfortable for his first day of class. She didn’t anticipate any trouble. He had attended preschool on that campus for three years and she worked at the church office just across the parking lot. He was in comfortable and familiar territory.

As she showed her son all the room had to offer, a wave of emotion swept over her. Afraid she would start crying, she made excuses to leave early. Hurrying out, she took some deep breaths and the emotion subsided. What was that? she asked herself. She was confused by the strength of feeling and unable to identify the specific emotion. She knew some mothers became emotional as their children started school but surely this was too strong a feeling to be that. Besides, she told herself, he had been in preschool for so long and would just be across the parking lot from her. She hadn’t thought this would bother her.

Pushing the thoughts and emotions aside, she went about her business the next couple of days. The first days of kindergarten were uneventful. Her son was fine. She was able to suppress any overwhelming feelings yet was never completely at ease. Friday came, and with it, the first school chapel. This was the only day the children had a specific dress code: shirts with collars and pants for the boys, skirts or dresses for the girls. No shorts allowed. The no shorts rule presented her with her first power struggle of elementary school. He only liked jeans or shorts and t-shirts. No collars on his shirts and no fat pants--his name for anything other than the hand-me-down Wrangler jeans he favored.

“It’s the rules. You have to wear this.” she stated patiently.

“No! I want shorts!” he demanded.

“You can’t wear shorts. It says in the student handbook. No shorts. I read it. You have to respect the rules even if you don’t agree with them.” she attempted to reason with him. Eventually, she won the battle but not without losing her patience and it was exhausting. At the chapel hour, she headed over to the auditorium to sneak a peek at her little boy. The students filed in, class by class. She noticed one student, then another and another in shorts.

"Wait a minute. What is going on here?" she thought. Spotting Karen, the school vice principal and a good friend, she made her way over to her.

“Karen, so many boys are wearing shorts. The handbook said no shorts.”

“No, dress shorts are allowed.” Karen answered matter-of-factly.

“I read through it more than once. I’m sure it said no shorts at all. I would have let him wear shorts. He wanted to wear shorts,” she began to get distressed.

“No. It says dress shorts are acceptable.” her friend reassured her.

She did not believe this and wouldn’t accept it until the manual was brought out. There in black and white were the words she had missed for some reason.

“For boys, acceptable dress includes collared shirts including knit polo shirts tucked in, pants, dress shorts, belt, sneakers...”

The dam burst of tears was released. All that fighting and struggle for nothing. Her friend tried to console her but she wasn’t in a place to be comforted. The emotion that began the day of the kindergarten tea was released now like a tidal wave and it had to run its course. She made her way back to her office sobbing. She would get the tears under control until someone would walk by and ask her what was wrong.

“I made him wear pants! I’m a horrible mom!” she wailed. The men in her office, while sympathetic, did not quite understand this response. They humored her and gave her hugs, reassuring her that she was a wonderful mom. Although the shorts issue didn’t make sense to them, they were dads and knew not to reason with a mom in this state. After she calmed down, she decided to try to at least alleviate her mistake. Rushing home, she picked up some suitable shorts and took them to his class. After asking permission from his teacher to help him change, she took her son into the class bathroom. As she helped him, she apologized tearfully.

“I’m so sorry, honey. I read the handbook wrong and you are able to wear nice shorts.” He was happy to have shorts but otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. Obviously this was an experience that scarred only the mother and not the son.

Over the next few days, with a little distance, she began to recognize the emotion she had been feeling: grief. That first shocking emotion that day in class was grief. She realized it now. It was the same feeling she experienced at the death of her grandfather, her brother, her grandmother. It didn’t make sense to her, though. Nobody had died. Her son had just started school.

Eventually she realized it wasn’t about being overprotective or nervous about her son’s readiness for school...

It wasn’t about being a horrible mother...

It wasn’t about shorts...

It was about what his beginning kindergarten represented: the death of his unencumbered life and his entering into a world of expectation and responsibility. He was no longer a child free of the world. Her baby was hers alone no longer. He was part of the world now.

He was ready. She was not.

Izzy over at Izzy Mom recently talked about her daughter's first day of kindergarten. This post, combined with Colin's starting high school in a few weeks, got me started remembering my son's first days of kindergarten and my less than composed response to it some nine years ago. It should be noted that when Marley started kindergarten last year, it was a little emotional for me, but I still practically skipped all the way to the car!


bubandpie said...

You weren't kidding when you said you were a P! Not a comfortable position, I would think, having to enforce rules you don't agree with when the whole structure of rules and social conformity is fundamentally opposed to your personality.

While I was Christmas shopping last year, an older woman told me "Enjoy your kids," which happens a lot, but then added, "Once they start school, they're never wholly yours again, so enjoy this time." And I haven't forgotten.

Praying for your Prodigal said...

WOW! Although it's been a very long time since my children began kindergarten, as I read this post, it was as if it was yesterday! Moving--and brilliant post!


Piece of Work said...

Oh. What a powerful story. My two have a few years before kindergarten starts, though the little one just started preschool last week.

Mary-LUE said...

Thanks everyone!

L-Girl said...

What a sweet memory!

Sheila said...

Excellent post. I was waiting for the emotions and grief when my oldest started kindergarten, but I was pretty happy about it. Although I did miss her an awful lot during the day. Now, my youngest? I'll probably need to meet you for coffee so you can hold me while I cry :)

Kristen said...

When we dropped Bryce off for the first time last year, even though I'd been nervous leading up to the big day, I didn't think I was upset or sad...until we drove away and had to watch him walk with the teacher, not me, into the building.

Ouch. I still start to feel choked up when I remember that.

Mary-LUE said...

Sheila, I'll be there for ya sister. I promise!

Lamont said...

I remember going through this last year, not when my son went to kindergarten but 2nd grade. I had just transferred to an office 19 miles away and I couldn't take the idea that I couldn't do frenchfries after school but before my evening youth meetings... no more quick trips to the children's library before dinner... all I could see was loss everywhere I looked. Time has passed and we've made some new get away traditions, but I still miss the simplicity of those days.
It's a hard thing to acess, but your post made it easier to take a second look...

Em said...

It is bitter-sweet, isn't it? Watching them walk away to an independant life... my so was SO ready for school I couldn't have held him back if I'd wanted to, but I still miss the little boy he was. I expect I'll find it extra hard when my baby starts school. Then it really will be the end of an era.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it! » »