Monday, August 27, 2012

Twas the Night Before Kindergarten

Tomorrow, my baby girl starts kindergarten.

I knew this date was coming. Of course I did. I had it circled in red on my calendar since June. But at the beginning of summer, it seemed so far away. Probably because I really didn't want to think about it, and I had trouble even imagining it.

For the past three years, we've spent about three days a week in her beloved preschool program, so we are not strangers to organized education. But this just feels different. Sure, it's five half-days a week instead of three, but that's not what makes it seem so unique. It's just the word "kindergarten" seems to imply such a huge step forward in the growing-up process. It feels monumental.

Throughout the all-too-short summer, I've watched the girl play, swim, draw, tumble, run and laugh. And with each passing day, she gains more skills, grows more inches (sometimes overnight!) and is too quickly taking on the sounds and shapes of a girl. Not a toddler, not a preschooler, but a school-age girl.

She is growing up, like it or not.

Frankly, I'm terrified.

And kindergarten is putting a tangible handle on my fear. It's "real" school! With homework and tardy slips and big kids on the playground. It's the big-league, folks. How did we get here? Maybe we should take a time out and evaluate this.

This morning, the girl woke up with a stuffy nose. My first instinct was to keep her home from school tomorrow. And the next day, and the next. Maybe even start her in kindergarten next year.

"She's going," said my husband, reminding me gently that I'm going a bit nutty.

Not like that's anything new. As this red-circle date approached, I became more and more open to the idea of homeschooling her. Sure, it was only about a five-minute consideration, but I still contemplated it.

Let me set the stage. I probably should be a poster child for multitasking. Now, I didn't say I would be the model multitasker. Because in all honesty, I suck at it. But I am the queen of doing it. Just not well. I have three jobs, three dogs, two kids, a dirty house, a hungry mortgage, a confusing home budget and a to-do list a mile long, filled with scores of projects I need to and want to accomplish. And yet, most days revolve around me living in the kitchen, feeding little people and big dogs, and then cleaning up the messes that result. I scramble to meet deadlines and plan lessons for the college classes I teach. I try to be social every so often, but most days that just means I touch base with someone on Facebook. I look at my Franklin Planner and I see that I've had "start baby book" on my monthly goal list for four years. Some days, the only thing that gets crossed off my to-do list is "wash dishes" or "spell-check article."

And yet, I seriously considered homeschooling the girl. I could do all the amazing things I see some of my friends do (thank you, Facebook, for both inspiring and intimidating me). I could teach her the topics I deem important, like art and writing and spiritual studies and science. We could take field trips to police stations, newspapers, hospitals and post offices to learn how things happen. We could spend an entire day in a museum and call it school! It would be awesome.

And best yet, she'd still be home with me.

That's when I caught myself. Not only do we not have near the amount of money needed to provide therapy for the girl when she's 18 and thoroughly messed up from having me as her only teacher, but I would be homeschooling her for my benefit. Not hers.

I honestly do not think I can teach her the necessary fundamentals of education better than a trained kindergarten teacher can. I can enhance those lessons with discussions about art and field trips to the museum and talks about religion and all that. But my girl needs more than me to be a success in life.

That's my goal as a parent—to help shape this perfect, amazing little soul into a beautiful, responsible, intelligent member of society who benefits her community and beyond. She deserves the best, and me trying to add schooling her to my already insane to-do list is criminally unfair to her. She needs more, and deserves more, than I can give her. My wish to keep her here with me via homeschool or by pushing kindergarten off a year is pure selfishness.

So tomorrow morning, I will send her into the care and guidance of a teacher with years of experience, and I'll close my eyes, send up a quick prayer and hope that this will all turn out for the best. When we attended kindergarten orientation, I was a bit nervous. I really had no clue about any of the school's three kindergarten teachers. I had no idea who to hope we'd get. When I checked the class roster taped on the office door (something I can remember doing with my parents before each school year began), I wasn't sure if I should be excited or not. I was going in to this school year blind.

But that changed when we walked into the classroom. Beautifully flowing stations peppered around the huge, well-lit classroom. Puppets, books galore, art projects, tiny tables with tinier chairs, carpet squares, toy kitchens, a wall with poetry and math problems. I fell in love. As did my girl, who cozied up with a book immediately.

And then the teacher! Kids gravitated to her, even my oft-shy girl. Mrs. B's warm and structured aura seemed a perfect fit for the kindergarten sect. I wanted to stay in the classroom all day. As did my girl, who was the last one to leave. I took that as a good sign.

Having been reassured through the initial visit, I am still weepy at sending my girl off to school. It feels like the first step down the waterslide. Once I jump, I'm on a one-way speed trip to high school graduation, with no stops in between. On Facebook this summer, I kept reading posts from friends who sent their children to college this month, and how it "seemed like yesterday I walked you through the door of your kindergarten class." I know time speeds by, and I also know that I can't stop it. I can't stop my girl from growing up just by not sending her to kindergarten.

So I might as well plug my nose, take that step and enjoy the ride.

We'll see how well I do tomorrow. I will keep my emotions in check by taking an obscene amount of pictures and video, obsessing about how I can capture every moment on film. But then I will come home and absorb what just happened.

A large part of me wishes I was walking her back through the doors of her preschool tomorrow. I miss that part of our lives together. I'm still homesick for them. I miss the teachers, the friends, the schedule. I miss what I knew.

Yet now it's time to change. And oh, how I hate change! Another bending. I know something is ending so something new can begin, but it's still so hard to accept. Bendings! How I hate/love thee! 

So I am trying to do what I tell her to do: look at the shiny side. We have a new school to get involved with, new friends to make, new things to learn, new adventures to be had. Homeschooling her isn't the solution. Stopping time isn't possible. Stuffing her in a tower a la Rapunzel will only earn me a well-deserved visit from CPS. So the best answer is to stop fighting the inevitable and enjoy the party.

Or at least show up. Which is what I plan to do in the morning at the ungodly hour designated by the school district as the best time to start class. I'll kiss my baby's hand, I'll wave goodbye and then I'll probably cry, eat something horrifying guilt-inducing for breakfast and procrastinate on my work as I wait the four hours until I can be rejoined with my heart again. And all the while, I'll remind myself I'm doing the best thing for her because I love her. So why do I feel so sad? 

1 comment:

  1. I write this with tears streaming down my face and a choking lump in my throat. This tribute is beyond beautiful, and you accurately touched on so many things all of us who have lost a beloved dog feel. When Sydney died in 2006, I blasted myself for putting friends, boyfriends and work before him. I hated myself for watching TV instead of taking him on more walks. I wondered if he knew how much I loved him and how badly I wanted him back so he, so we, could just have more time. The sad reality is there is never enough time, not when it comes to dogs, at least. I think they are wiser than we, however. I think they know they gave us their best and they know we gave them the best we could, and for them, that is more than enough. Since I know, Kyra, that you have a heart bigger than the universe and you have gone to the ends of the earth and back to save many like Owen, I know he loved you more than human words can say. He was a very lucky boy.