Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Things I'm Learning From Sending My Kid To Kindergarten

This has been Eden’s first week of Kindergarten.  She’s had 3 half-days, and I’ve learned a lot.  I can’t really think about it without getting a sinking feeling in my stomach and tearing up a bit, if that tells you anything.  Here’s 3 things I’m learning and my pro tips for coping, since having my kid 3 days into Kindergarten makes me a pro. 

#1:  Be prepared to be surprised.
You can work hard as a parent to prepare yourself and your child for the next step, and you can still end up unprepared.  Things happen that are out of your control and didn’t appear in the “what-if” scenarios you played in your head for months.  I had two priorities for setting Eden up for success this year.  Firstly, I wanted to find a half-day program, because I feel like that’s enough school for a 5-year-old.  Open-enrollment to a nearby district with half-day Kindergarten accepted – check!  Secondly, I wanted (okay, more like wished) to find a school with teacher-student ratios better than 1:25.  Teacher-student ratio of 1:15 – check! 

But, this first week revealed that I’ve been concerned about all the wrong things.  Or maybe, that there will be a never-ending list of things to be concerned about in this lifelong process of “letting go” of my child.  @#!*% . 

You see, I should have been worrying about her permanent teacher being on maternity leave for the first two months while a fresh-out-of-college sub fills in.  Or, her class being comprised of 2/3rds wild boys and 1/3rd too-scared-to-speak girls. 

Don’t get me wrong…I am probably the most supportive person you will ever find of maternity leave and women taking as long as they possibly can or want to.  And I absolutely love wild boys, especially since I have one.  But brand new subs don’t always have the best classroom management skills, and wild boys will take full advantage of this by “wrestling, fighting, punching, and poking” while said teacher “tried all kinds of things but nothing worked and they didn’t stop.”  (It’s awesome having a very verbal child who gives me a full report of her day.  Well, awesome and sometimes nerve-wracking.)  And the thing that killed me?  My girl telling me she “didn’t talk to any of the kids because those boys made me nervous.” 

Pro tip #1:  When you find yourself approaching a massive event and feel like you’ve checked off everything on your list, write in big, fat letters at the bottom of your list: “THE THING I AM NOT AWARE OF THAT IS ACTUALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.”  Try to embrace a meta-narrative that reminds you that you are not in control of your universe, that people and things around you are constantly in play, and that surprises will come.  And then just breathe.  In.  Out.  In.  Out. 

#2:  Overreacting is a skill. 
When my child tells me that her classroom resembles an underage mosh pit with no bouncer, I have a tendency to overreact.  I want to go in the school and drop in the principal’s office to casually ask if she’s thought about mentoring this new sub.  And then meander into Eden’s teacher’s room and casually ask if she’d like me to hang around tomorrow to help.  And I really want to go home and pin all kinds of homeschooling curriculum on pinterest while crafting a letter withdrawing her from public schools. 

I am not even-keeled when it comes to my kids’ safety and happiness and learning.  Most parents aren’t, and that’s okay.  It means we care about our kids.  It’s normal to freak out and overreact. 

Pro tip#2:  Allow yourself to overreact mentally and emotionally, but don’t act on it yet.  Talk it out with safe people (and talk, and talk, and talk – thank you dear friends and patient husband for listening to me this week), run through all the hypothetical scenarios in your head that make you feel worse or better about the current problem, and then do nothing, for now. 

When you’re able, see the situation from everyone else’s perspective.  Imagine those boys who are so excited to be at school and have been picking up on the nervous energy around them for the last week.  Imagine that poor teacher who is on her second bottle of wine while crying into her pillow.  This may help you see new solutions or at least engender compassion and patience. 

#3:  Kids are not as resilient as people say they are. 
Eden told me over lunch today that she was nervous about going to school today.  She was thinking of those boys and her teacher and worried about being in a situation where it felt like no one was in control.

People often say that “kids are resilient,” meaning I guess that they will adapt to a difficult or new situation and find ways to cope with it.  I think this is true, but as with everything, there are degrees.  Some healthy adaptation and coping skills are great.  But coping mechanisms that translate into lifelong struggles are also possible.  Some of my most vivid memories of my elementary school years are the emotionally charged, traumatic ones. 

Kids are easily dismissed in the adult world.  It is often inconvenient to take them seriously.  But I think most adults are walking around with wounds that result from not being taken seriously as children. 

Pro tip #3:  Respect your child’s personhood.  Tell them that their feelings matter and show them you take them seriously.  This is not the same as being a helicopter parent and hovering and becoming codependent.  It means allowing your child to express their feelings openly.  It means teaching your child strategies for dealing with the situation and their feelings.  It means reassuring them that you will help them find a solution, that they will not be left to deal with this by themselves.  And it means dealing with your own emotions separately so that you can be prepared to receive your child’s emotions. 

So this morning, I listened to Eden talk about her nervousness.  I told her I understood.  We talked about how her teacher has had a day to come up with a plan for how to help these boys settle down.  We talked about how the boys might be a little less wild today and make better decisions because they’re getting used to school.  We put on her chewy necklace so she could chew on it when she feels nervous.  We touched her bravery bracelet and talked about how it reminds her that I love her.  I told her she can always tell me what is bothering her and we will find a solution to this problem if it doesn’t get better (and soon!). 

And then off she went.  And I spent the afternoon thinking of nothing else and making “I hope your Kindergarten class sucks less today” cookies for after school. 

And thankfully, today was better than yesterday.  The boys "followed the rules a little bit better" and they got to go outside for recess, too.  I’m slightly encouraged, with a healthy dose of skepticism/wait-and-see thrown in.

And, I'm learning...oh, how educational Kindergarten is for a parent!


Anonymous said...

Oh Jamie, I wanted to cry and then laugh. I'm so glad that you are taking the time to let others benefit from your journey... I know I do. I'm so glad Noel is NOT going to Kindergarten this year and I too am wanting to homeschool more and more- something that I have not ever wanted to do before. WIsh I could sit with you for a bit. Love, Joy

Josh and Sharon said...

You're making tears come to my eyes. Not sure I'm ready...but I have a year to get there. Thanks for sharing this!!!

Jamie said...

Thanks, Joy! I find myself drawn more and more to homeschooling too, for different reasons than I'd ever thought. We're still having some bumps in this transition...We'll see...

Thanks, Sharon! I don't know if it's ever possible to be ready! Enjoy your last school-free year for sure!!