You have no idea what’s about to happen. Well, maybe you do. People have been grilling you about your level of enthusiasm over this transition for months, asking you at every opportunity, “Are you going to Kindergarten? Are you excited?” You have been patient with them, thankfully, but even you are starting to run out of patience. They don’t know what else to ask a five-year-old, babe, and though their questions have bored you, you have been polite.
Tomorrow begins a new chapter of your life. I would be lying if I said that I was not a little sad about your starting school. At our orientation today, seeing you with your hair in pigtail braids, lined up with your backpack perched on your shoulders, I caught a lump in my throat. You look so big in this sea of big yet little kids. The moment feels surreal, like I’m looking at a group of some other kids that cannot possibly include you. And yet, there you are.
I’m not sad for the reasons that many other parents are sad, though. Though I’ve read many nostalgic accounts of other parents’ sadness about the start of kindergarten, I am trying not to be self-congratulatory. I am a little bit sad because I know what’s about to happen.
For the first five years of your life, the only real social institution you’ve been a part of is our family. Our family is a safe haven, and you are a lucky little girl. Our family is warm and loving, we live in a safe place and rest easily at night. Though you’ve been cared for a by a team of people that has included your dad, me, and some incredible teachers at two different daycare facilities, your world has been very insular.
When you walk through those school doors tomorrow on your own into your kindergarten classroom, we lose a little part of you. You become part of the school, another big social institution, and we lose a little control–not that I need to control your life. We just don’t have the same kind of say that we did when it was just us four, in our house, spelling words on the fridge after dinner. You become part of a class, you have new people (big and small) who will become part of our family, too. You will have new norms and rules to learn and follow. You will have a new adult in your life, your teacher, who we think we like already but who we hardly know.
Even though we’re losing a little part of you, we can’t wait to ride shotgun on your grown-up school kid adventure. You are already an amazing little person, ladybug. You are bright and curious. You are kind to your friends and your father, sister, and me. You wonder about things. You are eager to learn. And as you told me recently, you “love school.” I hope that kindergarten is the first of many years of exploration for you.
I’m a little sad, ladybug, because I know too much about school–not just from my own experiences but also from my work. All I do is think about schools and schooling. I teach about, study and write about education. I know about the hidden expectations you’ll face as a student (and as a girl) to be quiet, obedient, and even passive. I know (from experience) that other kids can be vicious in small and big ways. I know how social pressure can impact your self-esteem. I know easy it is to get lost in the mundane day-to-day, to get bored and to lose your intellectual curiosity.
But if I told you all of this, your hazel eyes would stare at me, confused and impatient. You would push past me through those doors, waving a quick “bye mom” over your shoulder, racing off to meet new friends, to color, to read, to be that vivacious little lady that I know is ready for this new school year.
I wish I could just freeze this moment. I want to hold this moment in my hands and squeeze it, cuddle it, keep it close.
But I can’t.
So all I can say is, be aggressively kind to yourself and your friends, be loud, be patient, be thoughtful, ask for help, and stay innocent for as long as you can.
I cannot wait to hear about this first day and every other big and small day, kiddo.