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)  

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  1. Oh, look at how cute they are! They are getting so big. I cried a little as I read this, since I am sharing this experience with you (from afar). Molly loves kindergarten too, although she told me tonight that she misses pre-K. And my son is too cool (i wish) to sit with his little sister and the kindergarten kids up front. He wants to sit in the back with the big kids, which is another issue altogether.

    Good luck to you guys on the new school year!

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