Love it or hate it, a new school year is starting. In honor of the season of Trapper Keepers, #2 pencils, new shoes, and teary goodbyes, here’s my new column for Seattle’s Child.
My eldest daughter started kindergarten last year, and I’m not gonna lie, it was an adjustment. She summed up the experience quite handily at the end of the first week: “There’s too much hustle-and-bustle, too much blah blah blah, and NOT ENOUGH MOM.”
I have to say, it was hard to argue. We believe in lax, unscheduled summers for our kids and I work less for those months, so we get into a nice rhythm of picnics, parks, and pajamas worn past noon. Then suddenly, it’s that time of year again, when all the backpacks in the universe land in the front of stores with a resounding thud. No more lazy popsicle days in the backyard; it’s time for alarm clocks, homework, and yes, hustle-and-bustle.
No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of parent you imagine yourself to be (helicopter, free range, or something in between), there is one great leveler that hits us all in the gut in the same way. I’m referring, of course, to the day your first child starts kindergarten.
It doesn’t matter whether your child has been in full-time daycare since infancy, went to years of preschool, or has never left your side, the start of “real school” is a major milestone, fraught with emotion for everyone. Even if you have honestly longed for this day, something happens when you see your child heading out with a huge backpack, new shoes, and a lunchbox: you can’t help but picture the baby you rocked in your arms, the toddler who stripped her clothes off in public places, the preschooler who put marbles in his nose. How did your child become so grown up? And how have you gone from total novice to kindergarten parent?
When my daughter took the plunge, even though she had had three years of preschool, it was akin to watching her learn to walk. Suddenly, she was moving away from me and toward something else. And just like with those first toddling steps, a million little steps followed in quick succession as the year progressed.
Drop-offs that had been painfully dramatic got less so. Physical feats were tackled in short order: scooter, monkey bars, jump rope. Letters that were previously jumbled all over the page suddenly began to form (relatively) straight lines. Friends were made. My daughter began telling funny stories, described favorite parts of the day, and proudly showed me the way to the cafeteria, library, and office by herself.
But she also shared the downside: playground politics that left her the odd one out, hurtful comments about something she wore, insufferable classroom activities (calendar math!), and more than anything, the overwhelming longing to be home with her family. “I have to go here every day?” she figured out, aghast, about two weeks in. “Are you kidding me?”
It’s impossible to tackle the transition to school without some anxiety on both sides. But, as with any new routine, consistency and a positive outlook (even on days you aren’t feeling it) go a long way. In the hectic, stressful moments of the morning routine, stop for a second to take a deep breath, hug your child, and tell him or her how proud you are—and that you understand starting something new isn’t always easy, even for the grown-ups. Let your child know that even when you’re apart, you are always together. Instead of rushing out the door, offer that extra reassurance and affection that they might not even know they need. (After all, being a few minutes late isn’t the end of the world.)
Remember, some kids take to kindergarten like fish to water, others take longer to adjust and need more support along the way. The same goes for the parents. No matter how you feel when the classroom door shuts on that first day – elated, free, nostalgic, lonely, excited, blue – it’s okay. This is but one of many big moments yet to come, and you’re doing a beautiful job. After all, you’ve raised a kindergartener!
What was the transition to kindergarten like for your family? We’d love to hear about it!