Who's Afraid of the Big K (Kindergarten, That Is)?
I know this much about the three dimensions: up, down; left, right; forward, backward. I realize that space and time are relative, and I don’t have any particularly special insights to add to Einstein’s theory of the space-time continuum. I’m just a mom who is starting to freak out about the fact that my daughter is, in a matter of days, about to start kindergarten and, in doing my part to keep the requisite parenting clichés up and running, thinks it all happened too fast.
You can tell me to calm down, that millions of children have done it and survived, that I should just get over it like every other mom does. I already know that. I know I am overreacting, as I am prone to do.
But the way I see it, after all these years of sinking ourselves financially to pay people to take care of her—and precisely because of that paid relationship, their aim was to please us—to teach her colors, shapes, numbers, how to play, how not to play, how to have a conflict, how not to have a conflict, how to deal with the bullies of the world, how to deal with the mean girls of the world, after all that coddling time, my daughter is being thrown into “the system” (in which, it goes without saying, the aim is not to please us).
We’re plopping her into the cornerstone of a democratic society—she’s going to public school, you know the ones that are about to be slammed by California’s nefarious budget crisis, the ones whose class sizes are likely increasing to 30 kids, roughly twice the number of the class size she is used to (and even that number is large by some standards). I’m well aware that this is the real world, but I guess I didn’t realize it was going to happen so suddenly.
Remember, I say to myself, there are no stationary objects. Things keep moving.
When my daughter and my husband I lived in a small town in Oregon, we were a few doors down from a Waldorf kindergarten. All the kids on their way to school carried gentle little woven (required) baskets with their lunches in it, and the day consisted of playing with wooden toys, and being in a “natural environment” without any trace of licensed characters (no Dora, no Power Rangers, no Minnie Mouse, no slutty little Bratz) or evil food additives. The kids also got to stay in kindergarten until they were six or seven—two years was considered a normal kindergarten run.
I remember I used to feel sorry for those kids whose parents, in an effort to keep them from “harmful” things, had sheltered them from the real world. I thought, in my indignant state of recently transplanted urban self-righteousness, that the kids were suffering from living in a sterile little bubble that would one day burst and leave them angry and bitter and starved for everything their parents had withheld from them. (I once had a Waldorf child in my house pleading for dye. He wanted any food with dye in it, precisely because it was forbidden.)
But, I suppose you could argue, we all emerge from that state at some point, regardless of whether we went to Waldorf school or not.
I knew I didn’t want to do that with her. I wanted my daughter to grow up with kids of all races, all backgrounds, all levels of dysfunction and neglect, just like I did. I wanted her to know people of every stripe, and to have television and media be a normal part of her life, not something she pined for and obsessed over because it was hidden from her. So what were we doing in a small town in Oregon? Actually, we were escaping from an expensive violent urban environment in the Bay Area, one in which the public school system hosted some of the most troubled in the country. And the escape was both pleasant and eye-opening.
For a variety of reasons not related to where she would go to school, we moved back to California, just as the economy was about to tank. We didn’t come back to Oakland, the aforementioned land of blessed diversity, but closer to the ocean, where the family is, where the family can help raise our daughter, whose parents are strapped financially (the curse of artsy, underemployed types) and physically (dad has a chronic illness that the healthcare system, or rather his insurance, doesn’t concern itself with too much). And, yes, where the public schools are ones you can be proud of.
So here we are, about to start public school, albeit a not particularly diverse one, and daughter is absolutely thrilled about going, even though she is on the young side (not even five yet) and I’ve already gotten past the red-shirting issue I blogged about here on OS. It’s just mom, putting her ideals to the test, who is feeling trepidation. Go figure.
So what exactly am I afraid of?
Up, down, left, right, forward, backward. I think it might actually boil down to those things. Just movement. That is, just her growing up while we blinked. Here are some other things I try to consider in an effort to quell my anxiety:
1. She won the lottery as far being born into a situation in which she has enough to eat, people who care about her, a place to live, and she doesn’t have to be afraid of being shot or bombed as she walks to school, or made into a child soldier/prostitute, etc.
2. She’s got pretty attentive parents who might be able to offset the 30+ class size at home (and no siblings, which means all our resources go to her).
And, of course,
3. This is the real world, replete with licensed characters—some of them violent even, food additives, bullies, mean girls, overcrowding, underpaid and unappreciated teachers who, each year, have to fear losing their underpaid, underappreciated jobs, or fear being replaced by younger, less jaded Teach for America volunteers, or fear having to teach to the test rather than teach what they think is best for a child’s development. This is the real world, in which you get special attention because you learn differently, act differently, think differently, especially when you are branded with a diagnosis, and by the way, what is that diagnosis going to be? So deal with it. Just deal with it.
Okay, really I’m fine. It’s going to be no big deal. My daughter is going to kindergarten. Right now I am just going to focus on getting a new lunch box for her. I can do that.