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From college to kindergarten

August 31, 2000

From college to kindergarten



Editor's note: Like many of you, we sent our kids to school last week. Kate Coleman's youngest child, Will, is a freshman in college. Lisa Prejean's oldest, Tristan, started kindergarten. Here are their reflections.




Lisa: Bring a backpack and a smile. The letter from my son's teacher said that's all he would need for the first day of kindergarten.

We had the backpack.

The smile was another story.

Kate: Say cheese.

It was a classic dorm goodbye scene.

I watched another mom snap a picture of her son and his dad. The tall, handsome student was anxious to get away.

"No, wait. A picture with your mother."

Done.

"OK," he said with a wave, leaning toward the door.

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A little sister whined his name, moving in for a hug.

He escaped and headed up the stairs.

Our eyes met.

"You don't understand," he said.

"No! You don't understand. And your mother didn't even cry!" I said, more shrilly than intended.

"That's because I told her not to," he said.

As if.

Lisa: I chattered away while walking out of work with Kevin Gilbert, our chief photographer.

"Tristan starts kindergarten tomorrow. We have orientation tonight. I can't believe five years have passed."

His reply was on my mind the whole way home: "You've spent those years preparing him for this day."

Gulp.

Kate: I didn't cry when we took my daughter, Maggie, to college three years ago. Not at first, anyway. It didn't hit me until she hugged her younger brother, Will.

I knew what was coming this time. Frantically busy, as usual, I didn't have time to dwell on my 6-foot-1 baby's parting. But the tears and emotions sneaked up on me many times in the past several months.

Lisa: Tristan has been busy lately. He sharpened every pencil in our house, wrote "SCHOOL DAY" on our calendar, planned who he would sit beside on the bus.

"At orientation, you'll meet your teacher and see your classroom," I told him.

He quietly asked, "But, Mommy, what if I forget where my classroom is?"

I looked in those big, brown eyes and tried to swallow the lump in my throat. Forcing a smile, I said, "Oh, honey, you won't forget. But if you do, there will be lots of people to help you."

Kate: Will has always been amazed by and made fun of how easily I cry. It doesn't have to be sad things. I cry when I'm tired, when I'm angry, when I'm happy. I cry at turning-point, crossing-the-threshold, life-changing moments, and this certainly is one of them.

I am proud of my smart son. He is a kind, good person, and I'm happy he has this wonderful opportunity to grow for the next four years. I know he must do that away from me. I am excited for him. Really. This is what's supposed to happen.

Lisa: A room full of parents reluctant to ask questions and all I can think about is a broken crayon. That's my most vivid memory from kindergarten. The teacher said don't press hard. She didn't want broken pieces. Snap. Fear gripped my heart. How would this new authority in my life punish me?

How will this new authority in my son's life respond to him? The teacher seems wonderful. Still, I worry. She doesn't know my son like I do. I was unprepared for the flood of emotions that washed over me on the ride home.

As I tucked him in that night, his tears fell, too. "I don't want to go to school, Mommy. I will miss you too much." His father had to take over at that point. My tears were threatening again.

Kate: I won't miss my son's constant teasing ... rarely getting a straight answer to a question ... the "OK, boss," response when I ask him to do something. Neither will I have any problem adjusting to life without "schmidocks" - the annoying flicks of his fingers on my arms or head. I won't miss being restrained by him when I try to fight back.

I won't miss hearing his daily answer to hello: "What's for dinner?" Nor will I miss his response when I ask what he wants: "I don't know."

Lisa: I stayed home his first day to make sure he was OK. In reality, I needed it more than he did. Just getting to my day-care provider's driveway was a challenge. I forgot to put the van in park. I almost ran over a tree. I couldn't get the camcorder to work. Stellar. It seemed like the bus would never come. Part of me didn't want it to. Then I heard a little voice say, "Mommy?" I looked at him and waited. "I'm excited about going to school now." His expression filled me with relief. I sent him off with a wave and a promise to make cookies when he got home.

Kate: The house is quiet. Strangely quiet.

I am lucky to be a person who likes to be alone, even to eat alone. And though I rarely cooked a dinner that satisfied his picky tastes, I will miss having Will at the rickety dining room table.

I will save money on groceries, water and electricity, but I will miss the voice of Homer Simpson and, believe it or not, the often too-nasty-for-me sounds of MTV coming from the den.

I will take out the trash and recycle empty cans by myself.

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