A friend whose daughter is also starting Kindergarten this month told me she read somewhere that it takes about ten days for kids to start showing reluctance to go to school. After ten days, apparently, the novelty has worn off and the reality of sitting in a classroom six hours a day, five days a week, for the next thirteen years starts to sink in. That’s impossible, of course, since five-year-olds can’t even process the difference between “next month” and “when you’re in college,” so I guess I’m projecting. The point is that in this, as in so many things, Lucy is precocious. It only took her two days to start being reluctant to go to school.
Yesterday morning when I went into her room to get her up, she hid under the covers and didn’t answer my cheery “good morning!” Uh-oh. I sat on the bed.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I asked. No answer. I decided to act oblivious.
“It’s a Kindergarten morning!” I said.
That’s when I realized she was crying. About a tenth of a second later, the extremely tenuous peace with this whole Kindergarten thing that I’d spent the better part of a year constructing came crashing down around me. They’d made her cry! She was never going back.
I pulled her onto my lap, and we rocked for a few minutes. I tried not to mentally calculate the time left for my shower. “What’s wrong?” I asked again. She mumbled something into my shoulder.
“Did something happen?” I asked. She shook her head. No.
“Are you worried about something?” I asked. No again.
“So why are you crying?” She raised her head.
“Do I have to go to school?”
Crisis. In my heart, I knew I didn’t have it in me to force her to go. At the same time, in what was left of my rational mind, I knew that to allow her to skip just because she felt like it would set a dangerous precedent. So I did what politicians everywhere have done for centuries. I talked, but I didn’t answer the question.
I talked about all the things she would miss if she didn’t go, about how dull it would be staying at home, about how if she got up and dressed quickly enough, I would put the sparkly polish on her toes before breakfast. To my astonishment, it worked! She got up, she got dressed, we polished the toes. We went down to breakfast.
She started to cry again. I started to seriously consider homeschooling.
“I like everything about school except lunch,” she finally said. Ah! Something to work with!
“Why don’t you like lunch?”
“The kids are silly at lunch.”
I resisted the urge to point out that being silly at meals was something she and her brother specialized in, and something that drove her father and me to madness.
“Silly how?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, they make funny noises and stuff.”
“What bothers you about it?”
“I don’t know.”
At about this point in the discussion, I remembered my wise and insightful friend Amy telling me of her belief that part of what one learns from going off to school is to stand up to, in her genteel words, “influences you don’t care for.” It occurred to me that this might be precisely what was going on here, and that learning to deal with a situation in which not everyone is acting exactly as you would wish them to might not be a terrible thing. Of course, all this was taking place only in the small rational portion of my mind. The much larger Mommy portion was still simultaneously planning the offending children’s court-martial and our enrollment in the nearest Montessouri school.
Eventually, I offered a few lame strategies for dealing with the silly lunch-eaters, which she accepted with the seriousness befitting a fatwa. She left for school, and I spent the day with that feeling in the pit of my stomach which, before I had children, I associated with the five minutes before the starting whistle blew in an important game. So it was with some trepidation that I went out to meet the afternoon bus.
She hopped off, her “I’m in Kindergarten! Bus 153” tag bouncing around her neck. I grabbed her in a big hug.
“How was your day?” I asked.
We walked in silence for a few minutes. Well, in what passes for silence in our family, which is to say that her three-year-old brother kept up a running monologue about the spider we’d seen while we waited for her bus, and what it was likely to eat for dinner. Finally, she spoke.
“The kids at lunch weren’t as silly today.”
My heart leapt as if she’d told me she’d cured cancer.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m so glad to hear it! Are you glad you went to school today?”
She looked at me like I was nuts.
As in, “du-uh.”
Lesson learned. For now, anyway.