While carrying out the act and art of parenting, there will inevitably be occasions when, despite being motivated by the best intentions, you can't help but feel you are doing more harm to your child than good. For me, my son's first two months of kindergarten fostered such feelings.
I would walk him along our usual path from home; through a park lane shaded by trees, past a local playground in the woods, across his school yard to the side door of the building. During our fifteen minute walk, I would hold his little lunch bag in one hand, and his small palm in my other. We would talk about his world: why weeds exist, how speed bumps are manufactured, and we would listen for the whistles of cardinals and the thunking of woodpeckers. We knew that as long as the school bus passed us on our walk, and hadn't already rumbled up the street, we were on time. He was always relaxed, chatty, and full of good humour; until we were a couple of breaths from the school door. There, his lip would begin to quiver, and tears would well in his eyes. He would look toward the asphalt as I kissed him on the cheek, told him I loved him, and that he should have a good day at school. He would continue whimpering as he disappeared through the doors; one of the smallest of boys in a building filled with worker bees who had long since become accustomed to life in the hive.
My own emotions would often conquer me as I retraced my steps to our house. Why were we forcing him into this situation? Look at the sadness we were causing. Would he become resentful of parents who insisted on sending him away every morning? After all, in our province, kindergarten isn't mandatory. What if we deferred school one more year? What made wrestling with this situation even more difficult was that once I reached my driveway, I, too, had to leave home for the day and head to work. From that point, until I returned home, I felt like I was flying blind.
Granted, my wife was home for the rare phone call from the school to convey the details of our son's tummy ache. He wants to know if he can come home after lunch, the secretary would relay. Sure, his mother would answer. She would be there with a hug a few minutes later. She would also be shoulder to shoulder with the other parents at the end of the school day when he came galloping out of the same doors through which he had entered weeping only hours earlier.
"How was school?" she would ask.
"Fine!" he would answer with a smile.
She would convey to me when I called from the office that there was never any indication that his day had been anything but pleasant.
During those hours, however, between his sadness as he disappeared into a crowd of students, and his joy as he bounded back home, I would go about my work, miles away, constantly distracted by my ignorance concerning his well being, as well as my own helplessness and the certitude I was doing more harm than good. I was surprised how much these feelings contributed to my level of stress and sense of urgency in completing any project before me as quickly as possible. The stress would often be compounded by things which were even further beyond my control: being stuck in traffic, or having to stop for gas, or groceries. I so wanted to see for myself that his smile hadn't lost lustre, that he was still launching himself off the couch like a rocket, and most of all, I think I needed to know he wasn't resentful, and that I was, in fact, doing more good than harm.
As the months went by, not only was it clear he had found his niche and was thriving in his class, but as I became friendly with other parents, I discovered most of our stories were similar: weepy five-year-olds who gradually overcame the trauma of life in a "big school", to transform into flourishing six-year-olds parading out of the building with hands full of cardboard artwork, heads full of new expressions, and faces full of joy and missing teeth.
That was one year ago.
On Wednesday, my son begins grade one. It once again coincides with one of my busiest weeks. I will drop him off shortly before eight, and not return home until after he's in bed. My only reference of his adaptation to his new environment, new challenges, and new expectations of this school year, will be those eighty-or-so minutes from the time I wake him up, until I leave him at the threshold of first grade. Of course, there will be phone calls to and from home to fill what blanks they can. And conversely this year, his is already enthusiastic about having his own desk, and wearing his new t-shirt and fleece which brandish the school logo. But, I've already been forewarned of a supposed abundance of homework in first grade, and how not all first-grade teachers are created equal, and about how the curriculum becomes much more challenging.
All that is somewhat easier to deal with this year. I'm learning that children survive almost anything which comprises the natural evolution of growing up. I'm accepting that it is through challenges that children develop and excel. And most of all, I know that at the end of each day, he is coming home to a hug from his mother, a sister who yells his name and hops up and down when he walk in the door, and a house full of things which are safe and familiar to him. For this first week, I will look forward to our morning walks, and to sneaking into his room at night, and kissing his sleepy cheek before I climb into my own bed.
Next year will be a different story. Next year my daughter begins kindergarten, and the experience of those first week jitters begins again for us both. She has a different temperament than her brother, so I'm uncertain if she will exhibit his same sadness and anxiety. All I do know is that, at this time next year, I will be wishing I was home for it all.