My son is starting kindergarten in just a few weeks. My feelings on this matter are complicated, to say the least.
It wasn’t so complicated just a few months ago, though. It was just really, really emotional. I became teary-eyed on countless occasions as I thought of my little baby walking solo into a new classroom with his bigger-than-him backpack for the first time. Time, slow down, I begged the universe. I wasn’t quite ready for my little guy to be subjected to the unruliness of the world. What if he struggles to make friends? What if someone makes fun of his lunchbox? What if his teacher asks him a question, he doesn’t know the answer and he gets his first taste of embarrassment?
A million scenarios kept flying through my mind last fall and into the new year. I felt like time was slipping through my fingers. How long would it be until he considered it a personal affront when I tried to hug and kiss him in public? How long would it be until I wasn’t his number one person in the world? Just the thought made my heart sink and tears roll down my cheeks at night. It’s an emotional time, the transition to kindergarten. For both child and parent. Tears are normal. Excitement is normal. Nerves are normal. And I, for one, felt it all.
At least that hasn’t changed.
But everything else has. The world flipped upside down back in March, and the beginning of kindergarten suddenly seemed so far away. As a teacher, I had a whole nine weeks of distance learning to get through with fourth and fifth graders and the quickness of my days came to a grinding halt. I felt that April and May would never end, and many of my thoughts about my son’s upcoming year in kindergarten all but evaporated. Eventually, June rolled through and, off in the distance, I could see August approaching at a quicker pace again.
Then July hit.
School board meetings. Confusion. When will school start? Will it start? Yes, it has to open! No, it can’t! Or maybe it will, but in a form that no one can seem to figure out yet. “Hybrid model” became a phrase that bounced around in my head for the first time in my entire life, and it seemed great one day and terrible the next. In fact, all of the options our school board set forth sounded great one day and impossible the next. What was right? What was wrong? I couldn’t blame the school board; its members were just trying to make everyone feel heard.
All the while, I tried to keep a smile on my face and mention kindergarten to my son here and there. He happened to go to a daycare (pre-pandemic) outside of our neighborhood and school district, so, no, he would not know any of his old friends there. That was a tough pill for him to swallow. And, no, it would not be like daycare where there was playtime upon arrival. Another tough pill. But these were truths before the pandemic, so I knew these specific struggles would have happened anyway.
(Ha. A pandemic. I can’t believe I’m saying that. Never in a million years did I think I would be writing this post.)
But deep within my mind, I let the wild thoughts grow like vines inside of me. If he goes to school, will he wear a mask all day? One day I wore my mask for five hours straight and nearly tore the thing off of me after I got in my car. He would get used to it, surely. But will he make any friends? Will classmates be able to hear each other and play with each other clearly? Will the teacher be intimidating, with a mask and possibly a face shield on, too? I’m a teacher and I don’t know how well I will be able to convey my smile (and also, importantly, my “teacher look”) with a mask on, but at least he would be in a classroom surrounded by peers. That’s something.
But then distance learning comes with issues too, of course. (Nothing is clear cut in our current world, as I know too well now.) My son will be five when kindergarten starts and I really just don’t know how he’ll do in front of a screen for so long. I know he misses human interaction outside of our immediate family, and it manifests through some wicked mood swings that we have also had to navigate. But distance learning would be home. Safe. Consistent learning. But no friends, like any five year old naturally wants and, really, needs.
And then there’s the hybrid model. A mix of the two. It sounds perfect except I have no idea what it’ll even look like. Do I want to throw my kid into the unknown? Not really.
Nothing feels good. None of the choices feel right. It’s normal for parents to want the absolute best experience for their little girls and boys, but is it even possible given the circumstances?
Well, yes. It is.
Experience is completely subjective to and reliant on our current situation. Ever been camping and then it rains the whole time? Not ideal, but you make the best of it. C’est la vie in that moment. Maybe you’re stuck in your icky wet tent but you spend your time telling ghost stories with a flashlight held up under your chin. And maybe you don’t get to roast marshmallows over a campfire for s’mores but the bars of Hershey’s chocolate you brought with you taste pretty darn good by themselves straight out of the package. You make the best of it.
Okay, I get this isn’t exactly the same thing. The stakes are higher than forgoing a campfire and sleeping in a damp tent. These are our kids we’re talking about. I see that. But the current state of our world in a pandemic is our reality right now and our perspectives can make us or break us. We have the opportunities to make the best of whatever choice we make for our sons and daughters. There are no wrong answers. But there are bad attitudes that can then be observed by our little ones and absorbed. I realize that the best thing I can do is make a decision, and then smile. Tell my son that it’ll be a great year. Find the richness of whatever our experience is and then embrace it. Give life a big ol’ hug. And when our kindergarteners (the graduating class of 2033!) come out on the other side of this school year as rising first graders, they’ll be for the better – if we put a smile on our own faces.
All my complicated emotions are still present. There will be days that are tougher than others. (This pandemic has taught me that.) And my husband and I have yet to make a complicated decision for my son for this upcoming year. But for the first time in two weeks, I feel a bit more in control of my life and my little boy’s life. Because when it comes down to it, I can smile for him. I can tell him it’ll be a great school year.
He’s a kindergartener! A big kid!
Not even a pandemic can take that away.