After I wrote my post about Cavanaugh starting kindergarten last week, I thought maybe I didn’t explain what I was so worried about. Maybe I’m crazy, or overprotective, or making stuff up. But I wasn’t. I am not. Kindergarten is hard, for my son, for me, for lots of people.
On day one, he was holding a special rock, one that makes him feel “powerful,” so that he could be brave in this new place, so that all the people and the new routines and waking up in the dark to go to school super early would all feel less daunting. I’m saying it’s a special rock because it can make all those things okay. He pulled it out of his pocket and it did its job, so he felt safe enough to lose track of it–on his lap or the table or wherever– and it fell to the floor. Another student found it and called out to the teacher, who took it and lay it aside for someone to claim. Cavanaugh reported on the way home that the teacher thought it was her special rock and took it, that he tried to ask for it back but she didn’t hear him because it was too loud. My kid is quiet though. He could have said it when she was standing right next to him and she might not have heard him. When I emailed that night, she said she had it, she encouraged me to encourage my son to speak up. I do. I have. But how about looking around when you find the special rock, asking if someone lost it, not making a 5 1/2 year old in a new place speak out in front of a bunch of people he doesn’t know?
Day two started in assembly, hundreds of kids packed into the cafeteria saying the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag, then turning to the other side of the room to pledge to the Texas flag, then another pledge to the school. He hadn’t been taught any of them, not the words, not what the words mean. We hadn’t been informed he would be saying the pledge. And they don’t take roll till 7:45 so he shouldn’t be required to start his day in a crowd with big noise, not my son who so much likes to be in that they had to make a second cut in my uterus during the c-section to deliver him from my pre-eclamptic body, whose startle reflex is so strong that the whoosh of the hospital door on its soft hinge would shake him like someone had jumped out in the dark and shouted, “BOO!” After school, I stood waiting to get him and his class came out and sat down, his teacher was releasing students to their parents, and Cavanaugh wasn’t there. When I asked where he was, she was surprised he was missing, my quiet kid who couldn’t ask for his special rock back the day before. He had gotten lost in the hallway with hundreds of children, walked the wrong direction as he followed a girl from his class going to after-care bus rather than the class kids who get picked up by parents.
Day three he was in tears when his dad picked him up, afraid he would be lost again. His teacher was holding his hand. He was right up front waiting for a parent. And he was still terrified.
Day four, he threw up forty-five minutes into the school day, down his legs, into his shoes and socks. The nurse called me but I didn’t recognize the number. I was on the other line with my friend whose son started kindergarten at the same elementary school. He had gotten lost from his class the day before. The nurse called back minutes later and I took the call because two calls in short succession from a number I don’t recognize mean I better pick it up. I was at the school in five minutes to bring Cavanaugh home. Oh, and I programmed the school’s number into my phone.
Day five, Cavanaugh was in tears at pick up again, trying to run to me when he walked out the door but his teacher wanted him to follow the class to their pick up spot so he can learn the rules.
Day six, the lights weren’t working in the classroom bathroom so Cavanaugh had to go in the dark with the door cracked open enough that he could see the toilet, but not so much that the whole class could see him going to the bathroom.
Day seven, the teacher had a doctor’s appointment so there was a sub for most of the day. Cavanaugh was the line leader into the cafeteria but he was so terrified he’d led everyone to the wrong place, and he couldn’t recognize the new teacher’s face, that he didn’t open his lunch box. My friend was there for lunch with her son and saw my son in distress and helped. But no one from the school had noticed he wasn’t okay.
This is what I was worried about. He has cried every day. He is having nightmares. When I’ve gone to the school for meetings or today to have lunch with him, he is reaching out to stroke my hand. He is putting his head against my chest. He is seeking reassurance. He is not okay.
Yesterday, the vice principal got the lights fixed. Today, the counselor took him on a tour of the school so he’ll know how to find his way from everywhere. The teacher made him an ambassador (read: helper) who led the line into the cafeteria. He came home on day two saying, “I already made one friend. I think his name is Joaquin.” Today at lunch, he reported that he thinks he’s about to make a second friend. He colored around his name in art class. This week, he was practicing writing letters, saying, “I am amazing. I am double amazing” as he did it. And for every day that I mentioned a hard thing happening, I could also be writing good things. They are there. I’m just not feeling them.
I know Cavanaugh hasn’t been in daycare or preschool. Most of the other kids have though. They learned how to listen to a teacher and follow the class and stand in line and even say the pledge before now. But not my kid. He was home with me. He was in an in-home Montessori Mother’s Day Out with four other kids, because he was shy, because his parents were getting divorced, because he needed to ease in. Now I feel like I’ve thrown him in the deep end of the pool. And I can call the teacher and the counselor and the principals. I can join the PTA and go to parent volunteer meetings. I can advocate and listen and help him get what he needs. From the school’s responses so far, I believe they’re here to help him and me. But this beginning part, this entering the system with its rules and its automated recordings about vaccinations and attendance is making me anxious. Cavanaugh is not the only one crying every day.
I want him to be able to go the public school in our neighborhood, and not just because it’s what I can afford. I want to know the parents and families in my neighborhood. I want all the good things that public school offers. We’re getting some of them, but there are so many of the bad things too that it’s just not balancing out. So, bring on the good things. We’re ready for more good things. What I want is for kindergarten to feel like a whole world opening, the beginning Margaret Atwood describes here.