The reluctant kindergartener

Please welcome back our occasional guest blogger, Buster, aged 5.

I’ve been telling them, ever since the end of preschool, I didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Maybe they thought I was just trying to be cute. Whatever. I don’t have to try to be cute.

See, preschool was fine: three hours a day, then right back home to play.

This kindergarten is a whole new ball of wax. Did you know it goes all day, from like early in the morning until God-Knows-When in the afternoon? I’m not ready to make a commitment to that.

And then there’s all this pressure to learn tons of crazy stuff. I mean, I mostly know it already, but these people are sticklers for the details. A B C D E F G blah blah blah. I got the general gist of it. I don’t know why I have to be weighed down with minutia.

Counting? I can count to 20, give or take. If I leave out a number in the teens, big deal. Where I am is more important than how I got there.

Taking the leap into that great unknown called elementary school.

The worst part is they want you to talk . . . out loud . . . to other people. That’s just not my style. I made it through two years of preschool without having to open my mouth much, and that’s the way I like it. Give me some paper and a bunch of crayons and I’ll whip you up some top-notch art. Most of the coloring will be inside the lines too. But here’s the key part: I must not be disturbed. Don’t come around asking me questions about what I’m making. I’ve got no time for chit-chat; I’m creating.

Man, the teacher’s probably going to call on me and everything this year. What did I ever do to her?

Then there’s the whole lunch thing. They don’t even know what I’m in the mood for. The first day, they had pizza. I was totally ready to mow on some chicken nuggets. The second day, I was like, “All right, I’m down with your pizza.” Was there any pizza in sight? No. They had some kind of waffle thing. Didn’t anybody tell them I don’t like waffles?

Oh, but I had the option of getting the “fun lunch” which is like yogurt and celery or something. Fun lunch? False advertise much? Two hands full of M&Ms – now that would be a fun lunch. Let’s get that on the menu.

I haven’t had homework yet, but I bet they’re going to oppress my civil liberties with that any day now. I’ve seen my brother do homework before and it looks like torture. I’m just going on record right now as somebody who wants no part of that.

The first week is almost over and I’ve survived so far. I guess that’s a testament to my indomitable spirit. Isn’t that what they call it when your parents take you to school and make you stay there all day and you don’t even cry?

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Keep your jelly beans in perspective and your thumbs where you can find them

When we were potty training our first child we fell into the trap of offering him a toy as a reward to motivate him to use the toilet. This quickly became an untenable strategy; we are made of neither toys nor money. The boy had to learn a hard lesson about terms being subject to change without notice. It’s like when the cable company made you get a separate tuner box for each TV, advising you not to worry because you were not being charged for the extra boxes, and a few years later you find yourself paying $6/month/box. Potty training is good practice for dealing with the cable company.

Now, well into potty training the third child, we have lowered our game. This boy scored a few jelly beans or a tiny Tootsie Roll for doing the right thing. Using the potty is becoming routine for him, which means earning a candy reward for each occurrence has become unsustainable. It’s not that we’re yanking away his reward; we’re helping him realize using the potty is its own reward. If you think this is parental double talk, try pooping your pants at your next social gathering. The privilege of using a toilet beats three jelly beans any day.

Rewards should be reserved for accomplishments that are challenging. Remembering to go to the potty is no longer challenging for Big Man. It is nothing compared to the formidable challenge of keeping his thumb out of his mouth. He sucks his thumb when he’s tired or anxious. It looked like he was kicking the habit, but the stress of potty training must have made him fall off the wagon.

In the olden days, Big Brother adored his pacifier. It was a relatively easy addiction to break. The pacifier magically got lost one day. That was the end of that. I’m not sure I’m ready for Big Man to lose his thumb, so we’re working on other ideas.

Winding down with a good movie and a little snack.

The other day, he was incessantly reminding me he was due some candy for his pottying exploits. I explained that this was an obsolete reward system and then I made him a new offer. He would earn a piece of candy if he went the entire afternoon without putting his thumb in his mouth.

I didn’t think he could do it. We had to drive to pick up his brothers. The car makes him sleepy, and that’s when the thumb goes in.

He didn’t get sleepy that day. He kept himself awake the entire trip by chanting, “I want candy!” at me from his car seat of whininess. Annoying? Yes. That was an added benefit to him. Annoyance is the smallest wage I deserve for my duplicity.

He earned his candy. And then he felt free to suck his thumb. As extra tired as he was, he couldn’t stop himself. He’d missed his car nap after all.

There’s a storm brewing: the baby is mobile

I wrote recently about the baby’s achievements in learning the art of crawling. Since then, he has improved by leaps and bounds, such as those jumping acts apply to one who cannot yet stand upright.

The little fellow has become increasingly mobile in his desire to see the world, as defined by the first floor of our house. Now, having helped the child attain such a glorious milestone, it is time for all good parents to experience remorse.

It is time to regret all of the crawling demonstrations given to the wide-eyed infant. It is time to wish away all the helping hands provided in keeping his little knees underneath him as he wobbled back and forth. It is time to think better of all the encouragement and clapping of hands that accompanied the gaining of that first inch of ground.

It is time to feel the horror building from the pit of the stomach as the realization sets in: we’ve given this monster the superpower of mobility.

baby playing with cat

Even the cat asks us, “What the hell were you thinking?” with his shocked and alarmed eyes.

There must be some side-effect of parenthood that makes people stupid and forgetful. We are too stupid to realize that a stationary baby is far less a danger to our persons and our property than is a mobile baby. And we can’t even remember this moment of terrible revelation from the last time we went through it.

We should have been tipping him over every time he climbed up upon his hands and knees. We should have been furiously barricading his path with bookcases and upended dining tables. We should have clapped and cheered every time his arms gave out under the weight of his body.

But we did not do these eminently practical things. We did everything he needed us to do in order for him to achieve his nefarious ends. We did it all, because we would rather live in a house, destroyed or barren up to the waist, than suffer our child to be one moment behindhand in his development.

Well, the joke’s on us because we don’t have a cautious child at all. Instead, we have a charismatic manipulator, who beguiled us into the role of henchmen with his three-and-a-half-toothed smile. Only as we begin to pay the price for our callow enthusiasm does the spell begin to fade.

cat watching baby crawl

The reality of the situation having set in, the cat makes plans to abandon this area to the raging whirlwind. Note the overturned bus in the background. Add those unfortunate commuters to the storm’s toll.

It’s too late. Things are getting misplaced, broken, and maybe even slobbered upon. Every day the house becomes more and more top heavy with precious items too dear to be sacrificed as low hanging fruit.

And of all the foolish parents in the world, we are perhaps the biggest fools, for we have helped this baby hone his crawling skills just in time to make a playground of havoc out of a Christmas tree.