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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The stubborn contrarian doesn’t fall far from the tree

We had our spring parent conference with the boy’s kindergarten teacher last week. The good news is that the boy is doing well academically. As I often tell him, he’s too smart for his own good.

On the citizenship front, he’s not quite the hotshot he is academically. He’s getting better at focusing on his work, but he still has too much of his parents in him to be the most conscientious pupil. Like his mom, he’s a social butterfly, getting lost in chit-chat when he should be working quietly. He is too much like his dad when it comes to being a stubborn contrarian who knows it’s enough to be right – they don’t have to know why you’re right.

Even with the burden of his chatty, mulish genetics, the teacher likes having him in her class, so we ended the conference feeling good. But the most enlightening things were yet to come.

Outside the classroom, the kids’ projects were on display. For St. Patrick’s Day, each child had cut out a pot of gold, with coins labeled as things that were more precious than gold to them. As we walked down the line of these, the recurring words were, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, and the like. It was sweet to see how the children valued their families. At our boy’s pot of gold, we squinted to make out the names on the coins. Don, Mikce, Leo, R-something – who were these people? They weren’t family members. They weren’t even kids in his class.

The teacher was still with us. Noting our confusion, she explained. “That’s Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

More precious than turtles?

It’s not that Mommy and Daddy aren’t precious; they’re just a little trite for this pot.

The way I’m going to spin this is that the boy doesn’t value cartoon turtles more than his parents; he just didn’t want to do the same thing all the other kids were doing. That’s plausible, isn’t it?

Next, we looked at a book called If I Were President. Each child did a page on which they wrote a phrase to complete the sentence, “If I were President, I would . . .” and drew an accompanying picture.

The book was full of compassion. “Help the world,” was the common theme, with variations toward “Make the whole world safe,” or “Help poor people.” The pictures were of the Earth or of a group of presumably poor people.

On my son’s page were drawn fighter jets and soldiers. It said the following: “If I were President, I would control the Air Force.”

My son (you may call him, Mr. President) is the big, blue guy. He is commanding the troops to put on their saucepans and scramble their brown jets to go save the world.

My son (you may call him Mr. President) is the big, blue guy. He is commanding the troops to put on their saucepans and scramble their brown jets to go save the world.

As I see it, he’s not limited by the naïve idealism of his classmates. If you want to protect the world, you need to formulate a specific plan for doing so, and that plan had better entail adequate air power.

This boy has as much compassion as any five-year-old, but he understands that caring goes a lot farther at Mach 3. I’m sure Don, Leo, and those other guys who are collectively my son’s favorite people would agree with me.

Forget about the gold, we’re going for the purple

We may have experienced a minor breakthrough.

Being a five-year-old boy, our son likes to play when he should be doing work in school. Throughout autumn, he got better at focusing on his work, mostly through the skilled guidance of his teacher, but also with our encouragement.

Then Christmas break hit, followed by a parade of snow days. The routine of school became hodge-podge. His attention to school responsibilities regressed. We started getting disappointing reports from his teacher.

He lost privileges at home. This got his attention, but it wasn’t so good at holding it when he was in school.

There’s a color chart in his class. Everybody starts on green. With good behavior, kids can be promoted to orange, then blue, and finally purple – the pinnacle conscientious pupil-hood. Behaving poorly can sink them through yellow into red.

Our son took a few tastes of red. Friends suggested that maybe he was bored in school. Okay, bored is an excuse when you’re a super-genius whose talents lie three grades ahead. Bored is not an excuse because school work is more boring than play. He’s a bright kid, but I believe a super-genius would have mastered telling time by now.

One day we found an add-on to his train set on clearance at the store. At 75% off, we couldn’t pass it up, but we lacked an occasion for him to get it. We made a deal. If he stayed on orange for a whole week, he could have it. If not, I’d return it to the store.

75% off! Like I was going to return that? So some other parent could bag that deal? I’d keep that thing in the basement until he was 50, if it took that long to earn it. But he didn’t know that.

The best wedding gift ever.

If the boy doesn’t get to purple, this may end up being his wedding gift.

The next day he jumped to orange, and brought home a golden ticket. His mom and I gave him high fives and did celebratory dances. The next two days brought more orange, high fives, hugs, and dancing. Best of all were his proud smiles.

On the fourth day, he slipped back to green. I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding, but what was done was done. I said I’d give him another chance. If he made it to purple one time, he could have the train.

Funny thing though, he didn’t seem so concerned with the train. He seemed more interested in making his parents proud.

The next week, he fluctuated between orange and green. Then, one day, I was greeted with the news that he’d reached blue. There was much rejoicing. He didn’t mention the train.

The next day, as I hugged him goodbye in the morning, he asked, “What would you do if I got on purple today?”

“I’d be so happy that my head would just about blow up.”

He laughed. I think he’s close. There’s a train at stake. But most of all, it’s a chance to blow up his dad’s head with pride.

If I can’t find your kindergarten, you’ll have to be homeschooled

We intend to send our son to kindergarten in the fall. Many parents are delaying kindergarten an extra year for their kids. That’s their choice and I respect it, but the way I figure it, the sooner he goes to school, the sooner he graduates, and the sooner he can begin working and saving money for that posh retirement home his parents will so richly deserve in their golden years. Even one year of lost wages could tarnish the first-class accommodations I’m owed.

I feel like, out of all the people holding clipboards who knock on our door at dinner time, one of them should be the person who signs up your kid for kindergarten and tells you where to leave him on that fateful morning in September. So far, none of them have been that person, and I begin to fear that such a helpful solicitor does not exist. We may have to leave the house to get the boy enrolled in school, and to find out where that school is.

In my youth, there was only one elementary school in town, if you happened to live in one of the towns that was on the whole education bandwagon. As long as your parents got you to the door of that school during daylight hours, with some kind of identification tag pinned to you, you were officially enrolled. There weren’t so many forms with nosey questions about residency and immunizations. The teachers were experienced at picking out the potentially rabid, and these were set outside the classroom door to become the school nurse’s problem. Life went on without a fuss, except for the minor difficultly of having to often find a new school nurse.

show and tell

Checking the pack of new pupils for signs of hydrophobia and ticks. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

There are several elementary schools in our district. I’m pretty sure our boy will go to the nearest one, rather than the one whose data entry person picks our packet out of the stack. I found a map and our house is in the area outlined in blue marker, so I think that means our son will attend the blue area school.

I went to our district’s web site and opened up the enrollment form. I scrolled all the way down through the many pages of forms until I hit the Acceptable Use Policy. Somehow, I doubt that my son will be running an online dating site from the PC in his kindergarten classroom. He’ll bring his own laptop for that.

I finally had to navigate over to espn.com and take some deep breaths to stop the hyperventilating. Why do they need to know more about my kid than I do? Now I’ve got research to do. Maybe I’ll Google him. I wonder if he’s got a Wikipedia page.

It all seems kind of daunting and confusing right now, but I expect we (my wife) will figure it out by autumn. If not, the boy will be another kid whose advent into kindergarten will be pushed back a year. That wouldn’t be so bad except for the dent it will put into my retirement plans.