28 years apart.

Tomorrow my oldest starts first grade.

I started first grade 28 years ago. Most days, I walked from my babysitter’s to my public school. There were 3 clustered classrooms in one large classroom and I spent a good portion of the day looking over at the hand washing station in front of the restrooms. It was shaped like a carousel and had automatic sensors that squirted out. I marveled at it and budgeted how many times I could visit it in the span of a school day. Our phones were still connected to cords, then, people. Also, ADD wasn’t yet a thing.

I didn’t know how to read when I started first grade. I have no memory of my writing abilities. In the afternoons, I watched She-Ra and played on my swingset. In late October of my first grade year, my family moved suburbs and I started at a Catholic school. I was among very few students who couldn’t read. I wore a uniform. The lunch attendant asked me my first day if I needed to use the lavatory. I had no idea what that was, so I said, No, and went back to my seat and wondered whether there was a wash room in the school.

1985

***

My oldest will put on a school uniform for the first time tomorrow and get in our car and be dropped off right in front of her school. We will likely walk her to her classroom for as many days as she allows us. She knows almost all of her classmates as she has gone to the same school and church with most of them for the past three years. Her teacher is the same as she has had for the past three years, as well.

She can read and do simple multiplication. In the afternoons, she comes home and plays games on a laptop computer and will do compulsory reading and arithmetic lessons.

Shortly after dinner, she will ask to go outside and play on her swingset and she will get a far-off gaze in her eye and ask how many days until summer vacation again.

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The difference

This post was originally shared in 2008.

I am waiting for the hot soccer player with the pretty hair, and I have not thought all the right things through. I haven’t explained to him how to get to my dorm room, and I haven’t offered to meet him at a more central location. It is a first date and all I have been able to focus on up until this point is what I am to wear and what music will I be listening to when he knocks on my door. I am starting to get that nervous adrenaline that makes my voice rise an octave and my feet twitch.

I live in the women’s hall that always smells like Bath & Body Works, on the floor with the lavender walls. I sit on my bed with the yellow gingham bedspread, the one I picked out two years ago when I thought yellow gingham said “cheerfulness” and not “little girl tea party.”

I finally settle on a compilation tape of the Beatles that my friend made me. Neutral.

I start to wonder if he is coming. I grab a highlighter because I should look busy instead of like I have had nothing to do all day besides prepare for this moment. My floor is immaculate, every drawer and closet door closed; there are no clothes helter skelter. I am the RA on the lavender floor and my room looks more like a kindergarten room ready for the new school year to begin.

I need to do something and quick before my date comes to my door and discovers he is taking a girl from an Edward Hopper painting out for pizza. I throw a hoodie over the Issues chair. I knock over the stack of floppies. I kick my shoes across the room.

I am so uncomfortable now. My room is trying to be messy and trying not to be contrived about it. I am overthinking the floppy disks toppling over. That’s normal, right? For people to just let them topple and not pick them up?

***

Loverpants and I are picking up the living room before he runs the Roomba. Saturday night ritual in our first year of parenting. I am coming up the spiral staircase and as I step into the living room, I see my foot kicking something across the room. There is always detritus on our floor these days because Baby Girl is apparently preparing for hibernation, as she squirrels away finger foods between her thigh rolls. We are not perturbed by wads of food all over the floor; we sweep several times throughout the day. Or sometimes we don’t, because, why? So I look down and am just a flash away from picking up a bite of the Cocoa Rolo cookies I made earlier in the week. But then I ask self why would I have given Baby Girl a Cocoa Rolo cookie? That is not on the approved list of finger foods?

I ask Loverpants, Is this a cookie or…?

He leans over. I nudge it with my foot. It’s hard all the way through.

He picks it up with a scrap of paper. Smells it.

“It’s definitely poop.”

We will not even begin to explore how it got there.

The Two Reactions: I’m sad about my kid going to school

Feeling all the feels about our little man heading to full-time pre-K. So I’m just going to say it, fully aware that reactions will inevitably fall into two buckets:

In Bucket #1, we have the righteous looks askance, wondering why I will not be homeschooling, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping with him until the night of his rehearsal dinner. Don’t you know what HAPPENS to children who break that attachment to parents before the age of 34?!? How can you just release him to those cruel agents of institutionalization? Why are you so lazy and selfish that you are relinquishing his education to a STRANGER for 5 days in a row? Every week! Until the history of ever is over….

In Bucket #2, we have the flagging looks of disgust, wondering why I haven’t had more of a life until now, such that sending my son to school –which parents have done for thousands of years–is this big earth-shattering milestone that I can’t quite seem to cogitate. They are trying to muster an ounce of pity for me all the while thinking, Get a grip, woman. This is not Colonial Williamsburg. Your child will not be rubbing his hands by a fire in the one-room schoolhouse to keep warm, said hands will not be cracked with a teacher’s ruler if he misbehaves, you will not be the fresh-off-the-boat parent unable to read the scribble of teacher’s scrawl in this English language when notes are sent home. Really. Here’s some waterproof mascara for the first day of school.

I understand the sentiments that have filled each bucket full over time. I very much understand that I am not the first mother in history to be without her youngest babe for the duration of a full schoolday, and that I’m going to survive by placing one foot in front of another and taking one intentional breathe just for my own two lungs because I can’t take them for him.

But this is where I am: exceedingly grateful that we’ve been able to keep our boy at home with us for four years. Four years! I know there are many parents around the world who would kill for four months of full-time at-home care of their child. Unlike with Baby Girl whose second month of life saw me starting my grad internship and her father working three jobs,  my mister and I have been blessed with this opportunity to bond quite equitably with our boy before he had to begin formal school. And he still doesn’t have to go; preK is not inevitable like death and taxes and drama on “The View.” We just feel the hour is ripe for some structure and singing of awesome songs on a colorful rug, sitting criss-cross applesauce, and having snack from a Dixie cup. We’re excited and trepidatious and just totally thrilled with our options here in this home that feels on lease to us, just like these years are to us in which we’re all just trying to do our doggonest for these sweet, impressionable hearts in our hands.

 

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