Kindergarten Round Two

I started kindergarten again this week. It’s only been four years since my last trip but it feels like more. I am trying to recall the details of that September day—what she wore, (I believe it was a lavender dress, or was that first grade?), if she was nervous when the big yellow school bus pulled up and thrust its door open for her to hop on. She was so tiny; I think I resisted an impulse to lift her up the stairs of the bus, not certain she could manage the climb. I do remember following the bus down the street on my way to work, thinking of the sixteen new middle school students I would be greeting that same day. Their terror took on a new meaning for me as my own first born set out on her adventure.

That year was an adventure for both of us. The red folder that came home each afternoon with instructions for the “care and handling” of your new student and other communication signed “Love, the Kindergarten Teachers” consumed our evenings. I laughed with my husband; Kindergarten was a part time job. There were endless instructions about what color to wear or how many beans to bring in a zip lock baggie. Homework was a family effort, but it was fun, cutting and pasting, drawing and reading, together.

Everything was new that magical year- the Thanksgiving assembly with the kids dressed as Pilgrims or Native Americans, the Hundred Day party, the Kindergarten Hoe Down. And so many new faces to memorize! Both of us had to make new friends, as we tried on different combinations of playmates and families to see what the best fit was for us.

This morning I pressed the rewind button on my life as I sent my middle child off to kindergarten.  I am certainly less nervous than I was four years ago, but it is no less of a thrill to watch my child, toting a brand new blue backpack wave from the window seat next to his sister, off to begin his own adventure. And much more forthright then his big sister, he made sure to apprise us of how he was coping every second the night before the big day. “I am nervous for the bus,” he said over dinner. “Can you drive me?” This from the boy, who as a toddler  used to run down the driveway to await the bright yellow chariot that came to fetch his sister, and wail as it whisked her away because he was not allowed to ride. “Soon it will be your turn!” I would say. “You ride the mommy bus, now!”

The bus was not the only matter on his mind. “Will I be safe?” he asked.

His smart aleck sister, clearly forgetting how cavernous the school and the bus might seem to a five year old, piped up, “You’ll be fine. Except for the bus. You can tell the driver if someone is bothering you, but he won’t do anything.”

“But Julia will take care of you,” I quickly replied, “and all her friends.” If I had to personally train fourth grade vigilantes to protect my son, I would.

“Will there be a lot of homework?”

“Just a little,” I answered, “and it’s fun.”

“Homework is not fun!” Julia interjected.

“It is in kindergarten,” I retorted. “Remember?”

“Nope,” she shrugged looking awfully smug. And I sighed as I wondered when she had shed her optimistic outlook for a more jaded view. “You will do a lot of cutting for homework, that’s what I recall,” she added.

“I can’t cut squares!” Jonah voiced, the panic rising.

Before Julia could do more damage, I tried to quell his nerves. “That’s why you go kindergarten. To learn. There will be things that you can do that other kids can’t.”

It’s funny what children worry about. Squares? It never would have occurred to me that he might be concerned about cutting squares. I tried to recall what Julia may have perseverated on during those early weeks of her first year in elementary school, but I couldn’t. Had she been worried about squares? I remember what I was bothered by, though, things like will she make friends? Will she play with other kids on the playground? Will she be nurtured by caring adults the way she was in preschool? Is she academically prepared?

Doing Kindergarten again I have far fewer of these anxieties. This is a truism of parenting. We worry so much with our first as we send them off on each new journey. And then, with the next child, our fears seem trivial, almost silly. I did fret, though, that the joy of Kindergarten-for me- would be gone this time around. And I want Jonah to sense my delight as he charts his course.  I know the thrill of sifting through his backpack and helping with his homework will not create the pleasure it did with Julia, and will at times even be a burden.  I have a third child, now, and fourth grade homework with which to contend.

But this afternoon Jonah got off the bus and leaped into my arms, “I LOVED school!” he shouted. And I felt it again. Unabashed elation and exhilaration at the awe and wonder Jonah felt the first day of his school career. It is almost frightening to me that four years have erased most of the details of Julia’s year in kindergarten, so I am humbled that I am able to take this journey again; I write so that I can remember. And when my little one asks tomorrow if he can go on the bus with his sister and brother I will tell him that he will go on the bus in a few years, and he will be nervous, too, but it will be fine, even if Jonah says otherwise.  For now, though, it is the mommy bus, and he is my last passenger. Next time I wave goodbye to my child’s face pressed against a school bus window about to start kindergarten, I will turn around to walk up the driveway alone. Perhaps I will be troubled about Julia in middle school, or maybe I will feel nostalgic as I strain to remember her first day in Kindergarten, a distant memory, or Jonah’s which will likely seem far gone by then, too.  It is even possible that relief will wash over me as a new phase of my parenting begins.  For now, though, I will mark time by the rhythms of Jonah’s wonderful year in kindergarten—the holiday celebrations and the rainbow parade, the first sentences he reads, and the new friends he brings home.

Off to School!

Off to School!

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Oh Sweet Vacation

Each August my family descends upon the beach for a week of rest and relaxation. But as my husband ushered us out of the house a little too early so that we could “salvage” our travel day, hit the beach before traffic, and dig the sand toys out of our overstuffed car, it occurred to me that my husband’s directives were neither relaxing nor restful, and that individuals have different vacation styles, and that often these styles clash.

Commando Vacations

My husband was imitating the vacation style of my friend C: commando vacationing. Commandos have extensive itineraries. Days start early and end late. There is little time for rest. I recall a trip to London with C. several years back where we were allotted ten minutes at Parliament before we headed off for the Tower of London, which we did in fifteen minutes before running, literally, through Hyde Park to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It is easy to identify the commando traveler, as they bark orders over their shoulders at their straggling companions to “keep a move on it.” Usually, it falls upon the commander to record the trip and therefore he can be identified by his video camera, as he narrates the trip’s highlights for future generations to watch. He will often ask one of his fellow travelers to do “guest narration” and this request is usually met with a flick of the bird in his direction. Even rest is carefully scheduled by the commando traveler. C. had it down to a science. While the rest of us would linger over our tea each afternoon, enjoying the only opportunity we were afforded to rest our weary dogs and people watch, C. would nap. In a restaurant, sitting up, surrounded by the clanking of utensils and not so quiet conversation, he would sleep. And then, as though an internal alarm sounded, his eyes would spring open as he yelled, “Let’s go! Check.”

The Executive’s Vacation

The executive resembles the Commando in her authoritative style. However, unlike the “go-go-go” mentality of the Commando, the objective of the Executive is to be as organized as possible to ensure maximum enjoyment and relaxation. My friend B., with whom we vacation each summer, is the consummate Executive. A year before departure, B. will start cheerleading. “Who is psyched for vacation?  Yeah!”  As we reach the three month mark, research begins. Babysitter services are booked along with golf outings, and dinner reservations. A working schedule is submitted for approval about two weeks before we leave, and printed in duplicate. One copy has to be displayed in the vacation house, and one must be carried around for consult at all times.  And oh the gadgets. Each year the Executive conducts an annual review of the previous year’s trip to discuss what must be purchased to make the livin easy. Last year, it was the Wonder Wheeler, a contraption that allowed us to load all beach gear and make one trip. This year, it was the umbrella anchor which will make sure gale force winds cannot send our beach umbrella flying. I have truly never seen B. so happy as when she dug that anchor into the sand. The Executive, Damm it will be the most relaxed person on the beach if it kills her and her companions.

The Weatherman’s Vacation

The weatherman is the person who obsessively checks the weather while on vacation. This is my husband. Last night, the TV was tuned to the weather channel as he simultaneously consulted an on-line weather site to keep abreast of when the first raindrop would fall. Plans are redrawn as the Weatherman creates a schedule around the weather report. “The first raindrop will fall at 2:02, so we can get our bike ride in during the AM, and then be seated with a bag of popcorn in the cinema for the 2:30 showing. Oh wait! Now they are saying the rain won’t arrive until 5:00 PM. The movie is going to have to wait.” Often, the Weatherman never leaves his accommodations as he is too busy analyzing conflicting reports. This behavior begins before the vacation as the Weatherman checks the forecast weeks before departure. His moods alternate between elation and devastation as the monthly forecast changes. There are actually two varieties of weathermen on vacation: the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist will never say the vacation was a disaster due to weather. “Well sure, Hurricane Bill hit while we were away, but after tying the children down to the furniture so they did not blow away in the 80 MPH winds, we were able to play fifteen rounds of Monopoly! Besides, that one day we got to swim for twenty minutes.” The pessimist has an entirely different approach to the weather. Upon return, the pessimist, always doom and gloom, will report to friends that the trip was ruined due to the seventeen minute late afternoon shower, or one day of overcast skies. While the optimist will call this fortunate because it kept the beach cool and skin did not burn, to the pessimist the lack of blue sky equates to a tsunami.

Other Variations on the Pessimist Vacationer:

On this, I am an expert. The pessimist vacationer is the one who mourns the end of the vacation before it has started. As the trip reaches its half way point, she will remark, “Well the trip is half over!” And upon return, the pessimist will make a mental note never to take a trip again because all the kids do is whine, and after the two days of unpacking and doing laundry it hardly feels like there was ever a vacation at all.

The Goal Oriented Vacationer:

This type of vacationer is perhaps the easiest to please. As long as she accomplishes her goal, she is content. Goals will vary, from “Just let me finish my book!” to “I haven’t worked out in six months, so I am going to run 20 miles every day we are away.”

The Wife’s Vacation:

The wife’s vacation is a farce. It consists of laundry, which magically triples on vacation, food preparation, and childcare. In other words, the wife doesn’t really have a vacation, as it is eerily similar to her life at home. In fact, vacation is worse for the wife because it has the added responsibility of packing and unpacking for her temporary relocation.

I am a little bit wife, a little bit goal oriented and a little bit pessimistic. As I finish this from the other side of my vacation, I reflect, like the Executive, about how to improve for next year. First, my husband will golf each morning. It is the best aphrodisiac for doing laundry, so I don’t need to be the Vacation Wife. Next, since neither of my goals was reached-I have fifty pages left in my book and I did not get to take that long bike ride-. I will lower my expectations for next summer. I will bring a shorter book. Green Eggs and Ham, perhaps. I can finish that! And I will get my bike ride. The other bikes can stay at home, we will bring just mine. This I decided after the rest of the family, led by my husband told me we had to turn around on our family ride. We had gone about a quarter of a mile. After a long ride, alone, since no one else will have their wheels, I will return to folded laundry and a cooked dinner. And then, I will have no reason to be the vacation pessimist. I will make sure to contact B, our vacation Executive, about putting my bike ride on the schedule. I am expecting her to call any minute now to let me know vacation is right around the corner- 355 days away.

Published in: on September 7, 2009 at 3:25 am  Leave a Comment