Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Perilous First Days

Mommy Blogger extraordinaire (and real life friend) Not Ever Still invited me to do a guest post about first days, in honor of her daughter E's starting kindergarten. She was hoping for some fatherly wisdom since I've been through it twice and I did my best. She posted it this morning, now I am re-posting below. If you already read my first day post, skip down to the bottom and I can tell you how my morning went.

Life is full of first days, you have to get used to it.

I thought of this as I dropped by E’s kindergarten class to see her and my friend and lunch partner and her husband. I was visiting with my two, who despite being old hands at this school with extensive familiarity with the social and physical layout had their own anxieties. GoofBoy was worried about his math teacher, especially since she is a Steelers fan while he roots for the Ravens. Sometimes with boys, the depths of the shallows are unfathomable. (She set GoofBoy at ease quickly, explaining that she gives Ravens fans a break because she felt so sorry for them – me thinks she’s faced this challenge before.)

GoofGirl was concerned because there is a girl in her class she doesn’t like (GoofGirl claims this girl is “mean to her for no reason.”) I told her, bluntly, “There isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Of course, I could call the school and complain, but I don’t want to be THAT parent, and if I were the school I would tell me to buzz off. If it were a class of bullies or some other intolerable situation, I would go to the mat for GoofGirl. But this is one kid. She can try to get along with her, and if that doesn’t work stay away. If she wants to let one kid ruin her time, then she frankly deserves her fate. That is a central lesson in life; there are terrible situation and great situations. Most, almost all, fall somewhere in the middle and they are what one makes of them.

I am lucky enough to know E, both in person and via her online persona. She is a neat little girl, who once ambushed me and made me to tell her the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon (my classical education serves me well). The little Goofs love playing older sibling to her. So I thought I’d swing by and check-in, plus I knew other kids in the class. When I saw her standing in the middle of the room with her fingers stuck in her ears, I sympathized. It was loud and crazy – no surprise with a dozen five year olds running around.

I chatted with E’s Dad a bit, we agreed that whatever her anxieties, E was going to have to go and make the best of it. I mused on this for a while. Kindergarten is a big deal, because suddenly the game changes. It isn’t just about you and your child. There is another player – the state, society itself. Pre-school is optional (at least in theory). So is summer camp. But kindergarten is not, you have to go.

I am not advocating conformity, but part of growing up is learning how to “deal,” that is handle what life throws at you. For some this comes easier then others, but regardless, children need to be prepared for the wider world. This is why the Talmud instructs parents to teach their children to swim, not just as a skill but as a metaphor for getting by in the world.

“Moms may tear themselves up inside over letting their little ones go, but Dads get this,” I thought to myself confidently.

Or Do They?
GoofGirl has an ongoing problem with fire drills. Once, in pre-school the fire alarm went off and there was some problem getting to stop blaring even after the fire drill was done. GoofGirl (who apparently inherited my super hearing) couldn’t stand it. For months, she spent the mornings wheedling and negotiating to keep me from taking her to pre-school. Since I work at home, this was actually pretty easy – lots of visits to the coffee shop or park and very late arrivals at pre-school. Finally, a wise parent took a piece of paper and taped it over the offending fire alarm. That was that, sort of. But she still gets anxious about fire drills (“Will my camp have fire drills” was an early question) and I write it on her school forms and let the teachers know.

We are all dog paddling in the ocean, and sometimes we all need a set of water wings.

And now the rest of the story
Father Goof readers will see that we are just back from LA. I haven't written that we apparently brought some sort of plague back with us - like the Black Death, but worse. I spent the weekend out, and now Mama Goof is down for the count. I'm back up, sort of, but not 100%. Preparations for the first day of school went unevenly. The house is short of food, school supplies were not purchased, and sleep took priority over everything (well, except blogging of course.)

I should add, that I am not good at logistical matters, where Mama Goof excels. I wouldn't hate it if we had a traditional home where I worked and she minded the house. Unfortunately, this is not a viable plan, MamaGoof has an advanced degree in "hard math stuff" and is far more valuable to society than yours truly. I often wonder what I bring to the table. But I can get the kids out the door in the morning, still, I wasn't too focused on speed - it's just the first day, how much will they miss?

GoofGirl had a crisis of hating her shoes, her hair, and her outfit. I am poorly equipped to deal with this particular problem, first of all because I think GoofGirl is adorable, and secondly because I don't know much about shoes, hair, or clothes. GoofBoy was chipper, telling me non-stop about baseball scores while I fumbled around for school supplies. GoofGirl's marble composition book is actually the book I used to translate Catullus over a decade ago (I only got a few pages in.)

A few words from Mama Goof and GoofGirl settled down, but suddenly GoofBoy was antsy. "We are going to be late, I'm going to get into trouble!" He kept repeating.

"Buddy, it's the first day, don't worry about it. It is on me, I'll talk to your teachers."

But GoofBoy's mood had soured.

When I dropped them off, late, the front desk person explained, his teacher lets the kids who get there early pick on the first day pick their desk for the year.

If only I had known. Of course, Mama Goof knew, he had mentioned it - once! He has no problem bugging me constantly about other things (like his allowance), but something like this he mentions once and is upset that I forget it. Of course I have nothing else to concentrate on, like GoofGirl's hair, getting their lunches together - despite the school's endless food restrictions, my job (I do work), and of course writing a blog entry about all of this.

I feel bad about starting GoofBoy off on the wrong foot, but not that badly. This is a lesson he has to learn, the fine art of reminding without nagging. First day of school and he is already learning something.

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