It was 1983 and my youngest child, Josh, was off to his first day of kindergarten. In those days there were not years of preschool, so leaving me for a full day was heart wrenching for both me and him.
Fast track to today and my oldest, dearest grandson Blake was off to his first day of kindergarten – a full day away from his mom. She too had tears in her eyes and a heavy heart as she put him on the bus.
Below is the article I wrote about my experience that appeared in Newsday. Today Josh is my partner in business and the future is beginning for Blake!
All-Day Kindergarten, All-Day Tears
It was the first day of school and I was bringing my fourth and last child to kindergarten. He cried as might be expected, but I did, too.
On the one-half mile trip to school, Josh sat in my stroller part of the way, ran and walked for the rest. My heart was filled with joy for him because he was entering the next stage of life. It was so for me, too.
All my friends said, “How great. You’ll be a free lady now.” Although I work part time as a volunteer for an agency I founded for the retarded and part time as a free-lance writer, I didn’t exult in this thought. It wasn’t as if I had been sitting home with my children and totally centered on them all along.
Josh didn’t want to go to school because, he said, “I’m too young, I’m only four. Will I be five on the first day of school?” We created a little fantasy that, although his birthday is November 2, we would have a party in school for him the first week of school. This seemed to calm his nervousness.
The chaos in the lunchroom on our first day was discouraging. His shaking hand squeezed mine; his tear-filled eyes were also filled with fright. Is this where I was going to leave him? My own tears welled up and, although the sun wasn’t out, I quickly got my glasses out of my purse and onto my face. It wouldn’t do letting him see my tears. My daughter’s second-grade teacher consoled me and I pulled myself together.
I know we live in a time of lowered expectations, but as a former teacher I know how important first-year experiences at school can be in shaping a child’s attitudes toward it. I was bringing a creative, bright, energetic, healthy child to the all-day public school and hoping they would take that raw material and shape it gently and well so he would learn to love learning as his sisters do.
As I walked with my crying boy to his new classroom, his first question was, “Mommy, find out how many children are in my class so we can bring enough Munchkins for my party.” The answer from his teacher seemed to calm him. His favorite girl friend from the neighborhood sat next to him, and although her tears had just stopped, her composure seemed to give Josh the strength to hold back his own. His smiling, tentative look at me as I stood by the classroom door and waved goodbye drew a few more tears from me. But I pretended I was brave and walked away with a smile as his teacher announced, “All mothers must leave now.”
As I walked home alone, I thought, with all I may and have already accomplished, perhaps the most creative, productive accomplishment of all will be to have brought up children who are able to cope with the world around them.
My tears, I guess, were for me, knowing that I was entering a new stage in life.