Monday, August 06, 2007

Kindergarten, Again

A psychiatrist once told me that as mother, I would be reliving my childhood through my kids.

"Whatever ages they are, those are the ages you get to experience psychologically once again," she said.

Oh, shit. No wonder I'm on medication.

My disinclination to go back to early childhood typically manifests itself in a heavy heart and even heavier feet when it comes to matters involving my kid's schools. This all came up again last week, at playground meet-and-greet for Jonah's incoming kindergarten class. The kids went for the Popsicles, my husband went to meet the other parents, and I went because I had to.

On the drive over, my carcass pressed deeply into the seat. Movement felt barely possible. We parked. We unbuckled. We admonished Jonah and Audrey to stay close in the parking lot. I walked heavily behind my family toward the massed grownups and scattered children. Within seconds, I was staring at the ground and digging my toe in the dirt. I felt like I had felt every day of my life as a kid: like my insides were being sucked out.

Meanwhile the kids wandered off to the playground equipment. Matt chatted up an old college classmate and a mom he'd met at a kiddie birthday party.



To disappear.

But I got myself together and weakly greeted some other moms. Many stood around in little gaggles, or followed their children through the park. There didn't seem to be much to say. Those not in a gaggle seemed, like me, a little wary. So I wandered alone. I observed how the diverse body of children came together and split apart. Particularly, I noted those kids who simply played by themselves. I remembered that in kindergarten, one doesn't always have a stable group of friends. The social scene shifts almost daily. I marvelled at how much we were left to our devices during play times and recess.

For me, this meant that I curled up inside the bottom of a tall climbing tube. It was just me and the wood chips and darkness in there. Circles of sunlight blazed through the foot holds, and I played with running my hands across them, making shadows on the wood chips and illuminating my skin. I sang little songs to myself to hear the way my voice echoed in the tall chamber.

When other kids invaded, kicking up dust and shouting for me to move out of the way, I left.

Maybe I was a bit of an oddball.

My son is an oddball for sure. He doesn't play like other kids play. He's passive. He doesn't understand the first thing about aggression. Also, he can amuse himself for a very long time following the progress of a beetle across the blacktop. I think this is a lovely quality and desperately don't want it to get beaten out of him on the playground.

It's like Lord of the Flies out there.

At the meet-and-greet, my husband and I wandered back to one another. "Where's Jonah?" I asked. I'd been tracking Miss A, who is more apt to get into physical peril, and had ignored Jonah completely.

"Last I saw, he was at the top of that slide. Uh, oh, there's a line forming behind him."

My heart leaped. Indeed, there was a bit of a jostling mob at the top of the slide. I bolted over there to find my sweet innocent boy hanging from a bar, wailing, tears and snot streaming, and running his little feet on the plastic slide to back up. But his Crocs wouldn't stick, and so he was trapped there, unwilling to go down and unable to go back up. Five or so slightly older boys stood behind him, one in particular shouting, "Go! Go!"

I elbowed them out of the way. I rescued my child.

"Oh, Honey, I'm here, I'm here."

I rescued myself.

"Why didn't that boy help me?" Jonah wailed, while I cradled him on my lap. "I kept telling him I didn't want to go down and he just wouldn't listen!" Oh, the injustice. I knew. I understood. My heart bled all over the both of us as we sat in a desperate embrace on the ground.

"He needs to listen!" Jonah cried.

The mother in me had overtaken the child by now, and I began to get an idea for how to turn this into a skill-building experience. If I can't protect my babies from everything, I can teach them some ways to deal with what happens. Especially Jonah, who can hang onto a perceived injury for a very long time, and remain offended and upset. So I asked Jonah if he wanted to air his grievance to the boy who wouldn't help him off the slide. He said yes.

"We should tell him that I wanted him to help me, and that next time he needs to help me when I ask."

"Absolutely right," I said, getting to my feet. We spotted him on the swings. We began our approach. I just wanted J to get this off his chest, and maybe the boy would say sorry, or maybe the boy would tell him to shut up, I didn't know. He was only, like, seven. But it was worth a try. Unfortunately, our little rapscallion dashed into a game of chase with about ten other kids, and Jonah and I decided it wouldn't make sense to try to get his attention now.

"Are you feeling ready to go home?" I asked.

His face clouded, then brightened. "Um, I would like to go climb on those tractor tires."

I went with him. I didn't want either of us to be alone.


Rose said...

Dude, I chickened out. I can't do Kindergarten this year. I always thought I would have L go this year but I am enjoying watching her be comfortable at her current school so much I am going to give myself one more year before I have to face gradeschool. I too was a loner, i am not sure that L is yet. She isn't one currently so i am hoping she is more like her dad...if so she will look back at school fondly with Rose colored glasses...lucky...
I hope you have a great fist year of Kindergarten!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Susie. How intense! I have serious trepidation about school as well, even though I enjoy the process of learning. It's the social stuff that overwhelms me. I think having a child like K who is different--totally introverted, sensitive, creative, lover of all things pretty and pink stresses me out. I want to soften his landing into the realities of kindergarten. I just don't know how much that really is possible. xo Vicki

Anonymous said...

Kindergarten is a growing experience for both mother & child! Your first instinct is to protect your child & get involved. I did that last year until I realized that he needs to learn to stand on his own 2 feet & figure out how to handle situations. One issue got too out of hand so I stepped in & it was dealt with swiftly. You have to gauge how long to wait. Kindergarten is almost more about socialization than learning the 3-Rs.

I too relived my issues with school & feeling left out - it's amazing how it all comes rushing back! But we both got through it stronger & wiser!

It will all be great!!!