I recently sent my third child off to kindergarten. My only girl, my last baby, looking all grown up with her hair in a ponytail, wearing a backpack, clutching a lunch box. And I’ve got to admit, I’m feeling kind of… bored by the whole thing.
When my oldest went off to preschool for the first time, I read the handbook they gave us like it was The Holy Grail, terrified of making a mistake (oh, no, did I build the wrong kind of art smock?) and veering his entire educational future off-course for want of sewing ability. I attended every parent meeting and curriculum night. I volunteered for field-trips and saved his “report cards.”
When it was time for my second son, my “less easy” child to attend the same preschool, I was so terrified wondering whether he’d even walk through the doors, whether he’d stay, and, most importantly, what he’d do the minute my back was turned, that every day was a never-ending adventure.
By the time my daughter started her first year (ultimately, I spent seven years at the same preschool, six of them consecutive), I was pretty much over it. I was done with the trips to the firehouse and pumpkin-picking at the farm and The American Museum of Natural History’s dinosaur exhibit. I was particularly unconcerned about the art smock. If it was good enough for her brothers, it was good enough for her. Let the art commence!
I dragged myself to the Welcome Meetings, though I had the teachers’ introductory benediction memorized by that point. I felt it was important that my daughter saw me going, so she’d know her education was just as important to me as her two brothers’ had been. Because, of course, it was. Just not quite so demonstratively.
For the same reason, I continued coming in every Monday to be Lunch Mom. Because my daughter got such a kick out of it (especially the part where, at the end, she got to “help” me sweep up and disinfect the tables while her friends looked on with envy. Is she ever this eager to help sweep at home? That would be a no). But, the thrill of opening thermoses and silver juice bags wherein the straw inevitably breaks before you’ve gotten the foil seal off was most definitely gone.
So now it’s time for her to start kindergarten. A kindergarten that I spent pretty much all of last year getting her into. We went shopping for new clothes and we tried out different hairstyles and we packed her backpack and she watched me make her lunch.
The morning of her first day she got her picture taken in front of our bookshelf, same as she saw her big brothers do every year, and then we walked to her brand new school. I followed the program to the letter. But, my heart was barely in it.
I know there are many wonderful writers here on Kveller who could wax poetic about the symbolism of sending your youngest off into the great, big, scary world, the ebb and flow of the tides, the seedlings turning overnight to sunflowers, that sort of thing. I am not one of them. My thing turns out to be more social realism.
By the time it struck the appointed hour to take my daughter to kindergarten, I’d already woken up my boys (and husband; he’s a teacher, it was his first day of school, too), checked that their clothes were presentable, written notes about this and that to their teachers, gotten them breakfast, taken their traditional picture, checked their bus passes, sent them off to school, then repeated the process with my daughter. I wasn’t nostalgic, I wasn’t wistful, I was ready to get on with the rest of my morning. (Remember that old Army commercial–We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day? How exactly is that a good thing?)
Naturally, I worry that my daughter will end up feeling cheated. She didn’t get the new, young, enthusiastic mom who breathlessly applauds every milestone and bursts with pride at each first.
With my oldest, I was so excited when he first walked and talked. With my third, when I had to fill out a form for school asking when she first did those things, I was tempted to write in: You expect me to remember? (I did not. I merely estimated. My oldest did everything late. My second did everything early. I split the difference and guessed she was right on time.)
I was in no hurry for my daughter to walk because I knew it would make her just that much harder to keep up with. I was in no hurry for her to talk because, like Homer Simpson, I’d realized, “The sooner kids start to talk, the sooner they start talking back.”
But, while she didn’t get the new, young, enthusiastic mom, neither did my daughter get the nervous, anxious, inexperienced one. The one who really thought quality of smock would make an educational difference. (Do I seem to be obsessing about the smock? You have no idea how big of a deal it is at the kids’ old preschool. Alumni parents from decades ago will still go on and on about it if provoked.) The mom who stressed over making sure every single lunch consisted of all four food groups (and then they went and changed the pyramid into a plate, so there’s years of worry down the drain in any case). The one who was petrified of not performing every task exactly “right,” convinced that each little detail was a matter of life and death. In other words, the mom who didn’t know what she was doing.
I’m not that mom, anymore. (I’m not saying I no longer make mistakes. I just don’t stress over them.) So, yes, there’s a lot my daughter lost from being the third child. But, she gained some, too, I think. And, no matter how I feel, I hope that the enthusiasm gaps on my part aren’t too noticeable from her end. I did dutifully go through the motions, after all, and I’ll continue to do so. Because, as Jordana Horn taught us in her tribute to Nora Ephron, sometimes, you’ve just got to fake it.