Back in the old days, kindergarten was easier.
It was like preschool is now.
No, wait, preschool is still a little bit hard. Now preschools make you purchase school supplies, complete multi-step projects involving glue, scissors, and family photos, and pack a lunch that meets the standards outlined by the American Pediatric Association. Dec’s new preschool requires him to have a raincoat, rubber boats, a water bottle, a small pillow (travel-size, please), and a toothbrush/toothpaste (Seriously? I don’t brush my teeth after lunch, why must he? Therefore I counteract all this zeal by not making him brush his teeth on school nights). Today, I had to write down his favorite recipe on an index card and send it in (and since frozen chicken nuggets don’t have a recipe, I had to painstakingly write out the directions for a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I tried to make it less lame by writing, “whole grain bread is a healthy choice!” in the list of ingredients).
No, I’m talking about good ol’ fashioned kindergarten. Where you just gave your kid a metal lunchbox and a box of crayolas, parked them at the end of the street to catch the bus, and watched soap operas while ironing until they got dropped back off three hours later. The only homework was hanging up the picture etched with indecipherable letters on the refrigerator and helping them pick out some random toy to bring to Show N’ Tell. You know, back in the days when toys were permitted to be shared at Show N’ Tell. Now it’s all, “Bring a favorite book, or something from nature, or something that relates to a recent science lesson such as drawing of the solar system”. Back in the old days you could just scoop up some random toy off the floor of the garage and toss it in the metal lunchbox as the kid was walking out to the bus stop inhabited by hulking boys who participated in contests involving the extraordinary distances from which they could spit.
Now kindergarten is all stressful. It requires forethought and the ability to attend to details.
First, we have the supplies. Let’s see . . . Sydney’s list consisted of 15 things, many of which came in multiples (8 glue sticks minimum, please. Um, I’ve had the same glue stick since college and its got about 50% of it left. Can’t she just bring that?). Hand sanitizer, zip-lock bags, one “primary composition notebook with drawing paper at the top”, a large towel, etc. And since she’s only in kindergarten, her list was paltry compared to the fifth grade students. How is it that I have my doctorate and I’ve never had to purchase a scientific calculator in my entire life, but now fifth graders have them? It’s not that I mind paying for the supplies. I mean, I work in a school, I understand how essential these supplies are to achieving quality instruction. It’s just that it takes so much organization. The “primary composition notebook with drawing paper at the top” is only sold at Walmart. Which means that all the Walmart stores within a 25 mile radius were sold out. I never envisioned myself sending frantic texts to my friends like, “Did you find one? Get two, my neighbor needs one too! No, I don’t care what color it is, stop texting, you fool, buy it, buy it!”.
Next, we have the uniforms. First of all, I need to tell you that I love uniforms. Like, every school in the whole world, no, the whole universe, should mandate uniforms. They are super cute (seriously, is there anything more adorable than seeing two little girls walking into school, holding hands, wearing navy pleated skirts and Mary Janes? No, that’s right, there isn’t.), they are inexpensive, and they eliminate the whole “what do I wear?” debate. I did have an issue with the uniforms in that I bought, like, 37 shirts over the span of two months and managed to return 36 of them, leaving her with one shirt the night before kindergarten. I was like, “But I thought I bought so many shirts!”. I think I kept returning them due to my unconscious need to sabotage her ability to go to kindergarten.
With regard to uniforms, I do think that there should be a “passing of the uniform” ceremony at the end of the year so that the kids who have outgrown their uniforms can pass them to the students who wear a smaller size. However, this may cause several clothing factories in China to close because fewer uniforms will need to be purchased each year and I don’t really need to have another thing to worry about, what with the “primary composition notebook with drawing paper at the top” to fret about.
Next, we have the bus. At our local elementary school, the kids have to arrive by 7:25 am. However, the bus in our neighborhood (about 1.5 miles from the school) arrives at 6:20. In the morning. That would mean Sydney would have to get up by 5:45 am to get to the bus stop on time. No child should be up that early unless they are vomiting or nursing. However, if you drive your kids to school you don’t need to leave the house until 7:00 am. Which means she doesn’t even need to open her eyes before 6:20 am. So, needless to say, no buses are ridden in the morning ’round these parts.
Sydney started the year riding the bus home on the two days of the week that I do not have to work. I just, I don’t know, felt like it was necessary life skill. I really didn’t want to be that mom who coddled her kid to the point where she was so dependent on me that she didn’t even know how to navigate the public school bus and its assorted headaches.
Then I learned that the bus ride was nearly an hour.
Then I found out that there was no air conditioning on the bus. She was arriving home all red-faced, sweaty, and irritable. And when you add that to my red-faced irritability from standing in the hot sun waiting for the bus, it was a bad combination.
Then I noticed that the kindergartners were seated in the very back row of the bus.
Then we heard on the news that a bus driver from our school had dropped off a 5 year old on a busy highway without ensuring that he was greeted by an adult. The child began walking in the wrong direction down the highway until he was picked up by another bus. Apparently the child had gotten off at the wrong bus stop and had no idea which way to turn. How frightened must he have been? How awful was it for his mother, as she waited at the correct bus stop, to realize that he wasn’t on that bus? AND, I almost forgot to mention, they instituted this policy of securing laminated index cards to each child’s backpack that stated their name, address, bus number, and bus stop location. But when I looked at the card, it DIDN’T EVEN HAVE THE CORRECT BUS NUMBER LISTED. Where, pray tell, would she have ended up if that had been a day she was supposed to ride the bus home? Maybe bus #10 doesn’t even exist!
Then I heard that a couple of kindergartners were crammed into seats with big kids.
(Sidenote: I have a distinct memory of being in the second grade and sitting in a seat toward the rear of the bus. There was this one huge, fat, mean, disgusting sixth grader (His name was Jason DeLeo, and go ahead, sue me, you pig), who I watched put a mirror on his shoe and hold it under a girl’s skirt so he could see her underwear. I stared, horrified, and remained silent. While the rational part of me knows that a sweet little second grade girl should not feel obligated to take on a huge, fat, mean, disgusting boy (named Jason DeLeo, by the way), I always felt a bit ashamed of myself over the fact that I didn’t speak up and defend that girl. I am comforted by the fact that back in those days, girls wore granny panties not thongs, and there was no such thing as ‘sexting’ and camera phones).
(Other Sidenote: I just googled Jason DeLeo and my home town, and nothing came up. I’m thinking that maybe he’s in jail. Surprisingly, he’s also not listed on the Sexual Offender’s Registry.)
So, that was it. We are done with the bus for now. She can learn that life skill another time. She now gets picked up by a responsible adult, in an air conditioned car, and her underwear is not perused for prurient reasons.
Then, we have the binder. Yep, a three-ringed binder, separated into sections that include: a clear plastic folder for money and handwritten notes to the teacher, an agenda where all homework is recorded, the kindergarten handbook, the leave home/return to school folder, the FRED (Families Read Every Day) folder, some blank notebook paper, the list of sight words, a copy of the school rules and discipline policy, and . . . wait, I haven’t made it any farther than that as it’s only the third week of school and I’m still digesting the fact that grits are listed on the breakfast menu.
There are two places where the binder has to be signed every night. If your kid doesn’t get parent signatures and the principal randomly pulls their name out of a hat, then they are not eligible to get the free ice cream offered each Friday. This, in a kindergartner’s world, is a catastrophe. I forgot to sign her agenda one time and I trembled to think that this was going to be the day the principal was going to pull her name. And order to enhance my feelings of incompetence, the teacher highlighted the box that I was supposed to sign with green highlighter and put a big red check mark in it. Suddenly I regressed into a 5 year old child and had the urge to write, “I will not forget to sign my child’s agenda book” twenty-five times.
Finally, we have the fundraisers. This fall, the fundraiser consisted of each child being encouraged to sell 5 copies of a $25 coupon book. Groan. I am SO not the parent who encourages her children to accost neighbors who have cool outdoor toys and might be inclined to invite us to use them in a quest to guilt them into spending $25 dollars of their hard-earned money to support my kid’s school. If she was selling a box of M&M’s? Sure, jump ‘em on their way to the mailbox. I mean, who doesn’t like M&Ms? But 25 dollars for a coupon book? I just can’t do it. Plus, if my neighbor buys one, then I’m obligated to buy every piece of crap that their child/grandchild sells for the next 100 years. No, thank you. I’ll buy my wrapping paper/tin of popcorn/cookie dough/magazine subscription at the store like the true nonparticipant I am.
However, since I don’t want my kid to get dubbed as the kid whose parents take and take and take and never give back to the community, I felt the need to brainstorm with Drew as to on whom we can foist these books. This is how the conversation goes:
Me: Ugh. Look at this. It says that Sydney is supposed to sell 5 of these coupons books for the school fundraiser. This sucks.
Drew: We’re not doing that.
Me: What do you mean? We can’t just not participate.
Drew: We don’t have to do it. It’s public school. It’s free. We don’t have to do it.
Me: Well, I know that we’re not going to be arrested if we don’t do it. I mean, they’re not going to kick her out of school. But I really don’t want to send the message during the first month of school that we’re not going to do our part. Especially since Dylan is a bit of a rascal and we may need to call in some favors in a couple of years.
Drew: Can’t you just give them some money? I mean, if we do that then they’ll get 100% of it. I’m sure they make about three dollars off each book.
Me: No! We have to participate. I want her teacher to know that she doesn’t come from some white trash family who doesn’t value education.
Drew: She knows we value education. She knows you’re a school psychologist. It’s your job to value education. No, we don’t have to do it.
Me: Drew, seriously? C’mon. Can’t we buy one for your parents? And one for my parents? And maybe you can buy one and take it to work and your employees can rip out the coupons they might want to use.
Drew: That’s a terrible idea.
Me: Look at the book of coupons. There are many in here we could use. Here’s some for the movies. And some restaurants.
Drew: I’ve looked through it. You hate using coupons. Even though we go to some of those stores, you know you’re not going to remember to use them.
Me: I might! For 25 dollars I might. I used an on-line coupon just the other day. I totally might. But, you’re right, probably not.
Drew: I guess we could get one for Cheryl.
Me: Yeah, that’s a good idea (pause). Oh, wait.
Drew: What? We’re not buying more than 5. That’s 125 dollars!
Me: No, I just noticed this other form. You can “opt-out” by paying 20 dollars.
Drew: Oh, let’s just do that. Pay $20 for Sydney and $20 for some other kid who comes from a home where the parents don’t value education.
Me: What? You were totally going to be one of those parents 10 minutes ago!
Drew: That was before I knew that I didn’t have to do anything to look like an involved parent.
See? See how much I have to worry about just because my child gets all old and big and has to be sent to school?
And, I haven’t even told you the really awful stuff yet.
On Thursday during the first week of school, I picked up Sydney from the after-school program she attends.
Me: What, honey?
Sydney: I didn’t cry today. But I did leak a little.
Me: You leaked?
Sydney: Yeah, just one (she slowly traces a finger from the corner of her eye to the bottom of her cheek).
Me: Why? Why were you leaking? (I’ve never heard her refer to crying as “leaking” before.)
Sydney: Sometimes during carpet time I start to really miss you and I think that I might never see you again!
I felt like I had just been seared with a hot iron.
The next morning, it was my turn to drive her and her friend Kate to school. While eating breakfast,
Sydney: (shaky sigh) It’s almost time to get sad again.
While waiting in the car-rider line:
Sydney: Mom, I’m really trying not to feel sad.
Me: Honey, if you feel bad, take the picture you have of us out of your pocket and look at it. Know that I am thinking of you and I love you and I’ll see you soon.
Sydney: But I feel like I might not see you again.
Kate: It’s okay, Sydney, when I feel sad I look at a picture of my mommy and feel better. You can too.
(Now I’m biting my cheek to avoid getting all blubbery in front of her).
Sydney: (Deep, shaky breath) Okay, but I really feel like I’m getting very sad.
(I rip a piece of paper out of my notebook and write, “Mrs. Hendry, Sydney has told me that she feels very sad during carpet time because she starts to worry “that she might not see Mommy again”. Can you give her an extra squeeze or ask her to be a helper for a few minutes?” I stuff it into the clear plastic envelop designated for “notes to teacher”.)
We pull up to the school, and the car-rider nazi opens the car door and hustles the girls out before I even have a chance to kiss her goodbye. I start to roll away, and some evil force compels me to look back over my shoulder. I see Kate holding Sydney’s hand as Sydney bawls unabashedly. Her face is flushed and she is walking resolutely toward the door.
I immediately mimic her. I call Drew and when he answers I’m gasping and sobbing and I’m sure he thinks I’ve been in a terrible car accident or broken my computer. I explained that she was “c-c-c-r-y-ing” when she got out of the car and I can’t s-s-s-t-and it. He says all the right things and we hang up, although I am still not fit to drive. (He just told me that this phone conversation was on speaker phone and Dylan heard the whole thing. Nice.)
I’m supposed to be at a psychology department staff meeting in 40 minutes, and my makeup is smeared down my face. It’s so not cool when mental health professionals lose their sh*t.
I park and send out a group text to several of my friends (I just went and got my phone so I could quote exactly), “Sydney was crying by the time she got out of the car. She kept saying, “I’m getting so sad. I just think about how I’m scared I won’t see you again”. She has a picture in her pocket and a note in her lunchbox and I wrote a little note to her teacher. She wanted me to walk with her to class but I didn’t because I don’t think it will help. This is awful! I’ve got to get myself together to go to psych meeting. There’s no crying in psych meeting! At least there is junk food to assist with coping”.
Like gunshots, my friends reply with consoling commentary. As I read their replies, I realize that I’ve texted three people named Amy. Why do I have so many friends named Amy?
By the time I get to the psych meeting, I’m no longer suicidal although I flirt with it briefly when one of my friend’s (named Amy) who received the text starts to give me a sympathetic pep talk. I throw up my hands, and I’m like, “I can’t talk about it! Stop talking to me!”. She’s like, “Okay, okay, get down off the ledge, psycho” (she didn’t really say that). So I set down the gun, untie the noose, and distract myself by making inappropriate commentary about all information dispersed by my supervisor throughout the meeting. It turns out that sarcasm is an excellent coping strategy for me.
I rush out of the meeting and pick up Sydney early. When she sees me, she crumples with disappointment because she “didn’t get to do that scavenger hunt” at the after-school program. I thought, “Geesh, I’ve worried about you all day and then when I finally see you you’re all dismissive and cold?”. As she’s participating in the scavenger hunt, I read a note from her teacher who says that although tearful when she arrived, she quickly perked up after being given a hug and asked show off her homework. She assured me that many hugs would continue to be dispersed.
I wondered if she could hug me.
I really hate kindergarten.
Note: I couldn’t write this post until now since I’ve been recovering from the post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from that ride to school. Cards, flowers, and candy may aid me in the recovery process, although I suspect this will be a long illness.
Final note: Drew wanted me to share that even though the current bus situation is less than desirable, “at least the buses are not being driven by high school students, as they were about 25 years ago. Back then, the high school student would drop off all the kids and then park the bus on their property until it was needed the next morning.” Yeah, true story. Welcome to the south.