Kindergarten is the modern world’s dunk tank into cold, hard reality. One day, you’re sleeping til you’re done, eating a lazy breakfast, and getting dressed when the mood strikes. The next day you’re ripping yourself out of bed, being blinded by the rise of curtains and shovelling down food in an attempt to provide sustenance before the bell rings.
I’m sure it’s been tough for E, too.
After three hard weeks I’ve come to a startling conclusion: September kind of sucks. I had notions of sliding into a gloriously well-oiled routine after a summer of lackadaisical free-for-alls. Clothes would be chosen the night before. Bedtime would be easier (since she’d be tired from all that learnin’). Then we’d have a happy skip to school before she faced another exciting day of mind expansion.
That fantasy played out for the first few days. Then sometime in the middle of week two, E woke up and asked me how much longer she’d have to go to school. At first I thought the truth would be a hard blow but then I remembered she has no concept of time. I also realized that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t be the answer she wanted, which was likely something along the lines of, “just a few more days, babe.”
In the last few weeks she’s gone from excited to tired to annoyed. Now we’re at just plain pissy. And I’m here thinking, good gravy this is going to be a long thirteen years. Luckily, I know people who’ve been around the schoolyard a few times. I’m told everyone’s shit hits the fan near the end of September. The kids have caught on that this school business is an actual thing and it isn’t going away. Apparently, they lose their will to fight after Thanksgiving (the Canadian one).
(I’m sure there are exceptions. We all know those people whose social media feeds have us believing they’ve found the key to the perfect family life. No one yells, their kids do the dishes and everyone plays Jenga together on Friday nights.)
It also doesn’t help that E is convinced I’m the one who made school start at eight in the morning. What kind of crazy fool does she take me for? In a fit of irrationality, I tried to introduce reason to our conversation.
“How could I possibly be responsible for forcing hundreds of kids to be at school that early? More importantly, why would I ever do that??” I suppose I should be flattered by the reach she assumes of my power, although also concerned that she thinks I’m capable of such lunacy.
When her anger first started to rise, I wondered whether something bothersome was going on at school. Unfortunately getting pertinent information out of a five-year-old is like trying to get shoes on a two-year-old. Both are incredible frustrating activities that usually result in footwear being thrown across the room.
Then I found this list of great questions. I tried ones like, “did anyone do anything nice for you” and “who made you smile” but another thing about five-year-olds is that they have no concept of gratitude. I was asking these idyllic questions of the same child who, a week prior, cried over the future absence of ice cream while she was still eating the ice cream.
Last night, I took a different approach:
Who did you sit beside? Noah. If someone in your class could be the teacher, who would you want it to be? Me! What’s the hardest rule to follow? NO TALKING!!
Little by little, I’m shedding light on the mysteries that unfold behind those closed doors. In this respect, I’m happy Alberta has bucked the trend of subsidized daycare and kept kindergarten at a half-day. It gives us a bit more time to prepare for that day when they go off on their own, forget that we exist, and only call when they need money or advice about how to do laundry.
In the days leading up to this moment, all I could think about was how the hell I would ever get the Queen of Stall Tactics to school on time. I've been ruminating on that point since about May, back when we learned school would start at the ungodly hour of eight o'clock in the morning. I imagine it was my brain's way of creating a diversion from the actual task at hand: letting go.
Friends had told me how they melted into puddles of tears the first day their little one marched off to school. I couldn't imagine why. It's not like we're shipping them off to boarding school. It's kindergarten. It's less than three hours long. You can't even do Costco in that time.
Then it was my turn. Luke stayed home late that morning to help get everyone out the door on time. As I mentioned, I was worried I would be dragging a half-dressed, underfed fit of defiance to the school yard to greet the new teacher. On this day, she was standing by the side of the bed, fully dressed and raring to go before I had both eyes open. Excitement, fear, nerves, whatever we were working with, it certainly made my life easier.
It all seemed rather idyllic. We walked hand in hand in hand, the three of us, towards the schoolyard we know so well. She has spent many an afternoon exploring its playground or running through the field. It's where she learned to ride a bike and where she flew a kite for the first time. Despite my agonizing over school options, I think we always knew she'd some day join them on the inside.
The teachers stood outside in front of the swarm of nerves. Parents and children alike staring silently as they waited for a name to be called. Some ran to stand in line without looking back. Some ran the other way. All of them with their massive, snack-filled backpacks smacking the backs of their knees.
E had a few last minute tears, then walked up the steps and disappeared. All of a sudden, it was just the parents, standing there watching the doors close behind kids that two minutes ago were taking their first steps, saying their first words or eating a grape for the first time without it needing to be cut into a million pieces.
How the hell did that happen so fast? Why the hell did I want it to? Now it's all coming crashing down around me, all this time that I can't get back, and I finally empathize with the ugly cry set. We're not sad that they're growing up (we all talk about how wonderful it will be when they can get their own lunch or walk to a friend's house without a secret service detail), we're sad that they're doing it at the speed of light.
We're sad that with each new milestone, the previous ones seem to fade in our memories. We long for the feeling of their baby soft skin sleeping against our chest, for the fuzz of their hair tickling our nose, for the squeak of their voice as they learn how it works. We long for them to be small and vulnerable and close just a little while longer. Then they let go of our hand and walk away.