Sunday, August 26, 2007

LUE Rerun: Kindergarten

Perfect Post Award for August 2007

With so many of the bloggers I read experiencing children starting kindergarten this week, I decided to dust off the archives and republish this piece I wrote last year. I don't know that my experience with my son beginning his school career is the same as what these women will experience. I do know, though, that it will be something they will remember--always.


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.”

“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 paaaaaants! 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.


Anonymous said...

Oh Mary, this brought tears to my eyes.

As long as I can remember, my mother would say "I hated when you kids started school." She hated that we were leaving the safe cocoon of her making to face a world she identified as crushing.

I was recently telling her about my concerns for my daughter, making friends and figuring out how to behave with others (and feeling a bit of guilt because I'm such a happy introvert that maybe she hasn't had the opportunities to be with other kids that she should have....), and my mother said, "You're experiencing what I always felt."

Fiona starts full day Kindergarten on 9/04. It's in the classroom right next to the pre-school classroom she attended for two years. I don't know yet how many students there will be, but the entire school has fewer than 200 (it's a private, Catholic school). She should be fine. I hope I am (after all, I spent most of the summer dreaming about when she'd be gone for 7 hours a day).

Beck said...

My little guy starts kindergarten this year and I am NOT ready. He is, though.

Julie Pippert said...


I do not know whether I ought to hug you or run away covering my eyes and ears!

You know I am in agony today. I have eagerly welcomed each new advance and stage.

But today requires a LOT of letting go and I'd be okay doing it if i had TRUST which as you know after my post I do NOT.

And is it petty of me? I HATE HATE HATE that this teacher divvies up everything by Boy and Girl.

I have spent the last three years assuring Patience boys and girls can be friends and this teacher goes and divvies them up like they have cooties.

Boys names on one pages, girls on another. Boys bags in one bucket, girls in another.

Like never the twain shall touch, or their things either.


And of course Persistence is FREAKING OUT. She is SURE I am mistaken and she was meant to start school today too. ARGH!

Julie Pippert said...

Oh yes...thanks for pulling this out. I am glad to read it. It is so true.

Ravin' Picture Maven

Aliki2006 said...

I'm so glad to read it, too--beautiful!

Sophie said...

"... an experience that scarred only the mother and not the son." Ha! Oh true, oh true.

Your last two paragraphs: aw, please now -- your making me tear up. I am not kidding.

May I ask for this again in about a year? Because I will be there, feeling those same things, in the same sort of time-lapsed way.

Emily said...

Oh, I know that feeling so well. Countless times, I have felt like Loser Mom while the kids have long since forgotten whatever I'm all choked up about.

Mommy off the Record said...

This post was just beautiful. Little Guy is starting daycare in a week and I feel a lot of these same emotions. It's so hard to see our kids grow up. I'm definitely not ready.

p.s. I'm nominating this for a Perfect Post award.

Lindsey said...

Oh, yes, there are tears as I read this! So touching!

Mamacita Tina said...

So very touching. It definitely brings forth emotion. My little guy won't start for 2 years, already I feel a lump just thinking about it.