Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Sudden Change of Smart

Today is Thursday, the day I announced to my son that he'll be attending a new kindergarten on Monday. Yes, this coming MONDAY! Tomorrow he'll say his last goodbyes to his current classmates with less than 16 hours notice.


At 10 a.m. today I received the call that a spot became available. By 11 a.m. I was tearing apart the filing cabinet in search of birth certificate copies and bright yellow immunizations cards. By 1 p.m. I'd notified the admissions director at my son's now "old" school. I discussed it with my son after he'd settled in at home after a long day at school, around 4 p.m. It all happened so fast. I'm still in disbelief. Maybe he is as well.

What a surreal sudden change. A change for the better, I hope.

I'm supposed to be thrilled about this, even ecstatic, right? After all, my little man's been on the waiting list for this school since he was merely three years old.

He drew a bad number in the raffle to get in last Fall. Since then, I've begged. Offered to scrub the floors at the school. To write dozens of press releases for free. Everything short of promising the school administrators my unborn children. (Okay, that's just going too far. And what would the folks over at the new school possibly want with my posthumous zygotes? Perhaps to study them up close in bio class? ... It's the middle of the night and I'm too tired for this to go anywhere good.)

Instead of reveling in wish fulfillment, I'm overwhelmed with bittersweet feelings, beating myself up over the suddenness of it all. Meanwhile, I'm trying not to let it show. I want to project nothing less than complete and total confidence in this change for the benefit of my son.

How would I have reacted at the age of five to my mother suddenly yanking me from a school I'd just now started fitting in at? Will The Lawyer (I think The Lawyer is a far more fitting nickname than Mouth) resent my decision? Will he have nightmares from stress? Will he stress this at all? Or am I enduring enough stress for us both at the moment?

This really isn't about me anyway. 'Lest I should forget my son in the emotional shuffle of the transitional new kid dance.

I'm not the one who has to march into an unfamiliar classroom on Monday. The one who has to forge fledgling friendships. The one who tomorrow has to say goodbye to his recess buddies, his first "real" teacher, his first "real" school.

It's fair to say that I'm a helicopter parent when it comes to my educational and social/emotional development philosophies, just one obsession in a sea of far too many other aspects of my children's lives.

I worry too much about how my children will turn out, often more about the emotional bruises they might acquire than the physical ones. When you consider that it could be the other way around -- I could be too busy to care at all -- I don't mind bearing the "smothering mother" title.

Right away, minutes after my announcement that a spot became available at my top choice school, The Lawyer asked me to take him there, to his new world outside of home.

He tried in earnest to lace up his new tan suede Skechers (he's still learning how), checked his hairdo in the mirror (he's such a California kid) and headed confidently for the front door. He threw open the minivan sliding door and strapped himself in for the ride.

"Let's go, Mom. I want to see exactly where I'll be sitting on Monday," he said, matter of factly.

Next came a flurry of questions:

"Are they gonna' make me take naps? Remember when they accidentally put me on the nap list in preschool? That's not gonna' happen again, right, because there's NO WAY I'd be okay with that!" How does he remember a same-name nap list mix-up from age two? Jeez, this guy hates to sleep. It's just like eating with him, he does just enough of it to survive. No more. No less.

"Am I going to start all over again, at the beginning of kindergarten? Are they going to want me to learn how to write my letters their way? Is the alphabet different at my new school?" His Muslim best friend moved to Qatar and writes in Arabic. Maybe that's where this question sprang from. We just got a book about Qatar out from the library and he was mesmerized and baffled by the images of veiled women.

"Do they have bathrooms? Where am I going to go to the bathroom if I have to go? Do I have to ask permission to go to the bathroom?" Way to be practical, kid. Bodily functions are important. Figuring out where to take care of business is equally crucial. Survival skills 101.

"Is it true they eat lunch on the rooftop of the school?" Note to over-protective self: buy industrial strength tether strap/bungee cord/harness if this rumor is true.

"Do you think the iguana that runs loose in my new classroom will whip me with his tail?" Um yeah, Mommy was afraid of the oversized, molting lizard too. But weird on-the-loose reptiles add character to the learning environment, no? Perhaps a lizard lashing jolt of primal fight or flight adrenaline helps keep the kids awake and alert.

So, tonight, after his baby brother and sister finally petered their inexplicable synchronized, tag team crying fest out, The Lawyer got down to the practical business of change. The sense of control that comes from organizing the mundane, every day tasks.

He carefully laid out his outfit for tomorrow, his last day of school as he knows it, which incidentally is a 1950s themed school spirit day. He tucked his new skull embossed skater shoes under his bed just-so for safe keeping, and asked one final question of me.

"They're taking a class picture of kindergarten all dressed up like 50s and stuff tomorrow. Can I still be in that picture, Mommy, even if I'm not going to be there any more?"

Talk about twisting the Mommy guilt knife. Nothing cuts deeper than mommy guilt.

I went to his bedside to watch him sleep, warm and innocent, human origami awkwardly tangled up in his outer space sheets. There, watching his chest peacefully rise and fall, listening to his stuffy nose whistle, I realized that parenting is mostly gray area. Completely murky.

There's no Magic 8 Ball for instant, definitive, no-fail answers on child rearing, on raising competent, independent, responsible, caring children. You never quite know if you're doing what's best for your child, even when you think you're sending them to the "best" schools your city has to offer.

In the end, you know you're going to screw them up somehow, in some way. How will your shortcomings as their parent(s) manifest later in their lives? Or will they manifest at all?

All a mother can do is cross her nervous fingers that her child's young, formative psyche doesn't get too jostled up and wrinkled in the spin cycle, in the fallout of his parents' decisions about what was best for him at the time, and also what was best for his lucky siblings, who automatically gained acceptance to the same school because of him.

Everyone tells me The Lawyer will be fine. That I'm worried for nothing about the sudden change. "Kids are resilient." "Children bounce back."

Others warn me to expect behavioral regression. "Don't be surprised if he lashes out in anger." "Expect him to not be himself for a few months." Months?! Oh my God. Am I ready for this? Is he?

The debate, my ambiguity, all of it is moot. There's no going back. Literally.

My husband says sea changes in childhood like these build character. He should know. He's living proof, having grown up a globe trotting Navy brat.

Were you ever suddenly pulled out of school and moved to another? If yes, how did it go and what do you suggest in terms of easing the transition?


At 1:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I lurk here often, but this is my first time posting a comment... hope you don't mind.

The Lawyer will be fine.

Kids are resilient. Kids are stronger and far more accepting of change than adults.

Seriously. You don't need to panic.

You'll see.

At 1:28 AM, Blogger Domestic Slackstress said...

Little Miss Kylie - Thanks for coming out of the lurking darkness. Thanks as well for your repeat visits. Kylee is my niece's name, so naturally I'm attached to it. I'll let you know how The Lawyer transitions. Besides, isn't it sometimes fun to be the cool new kid everyone wants to get to know? I forgot, but I was once the new kid in a whole new school, in a whole new town.

At 4:29 AM, Anonymous chris said...

i'm guessing that your heart is feeling far more squeezed than he is. it is SO part of the job description. give yourself a hand for caring enough to make this step! (it's close to semester break anyway ... ) chris

At 5:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He'll be fine. he already seems like he's handling it quite well. You have a bright little man there...

Good luck and enjoy the change. He'll feed off of your enthusiasm.

Let us know how it goes.

At 5:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are doing fine. His attitude has a lot to do with your attitude, so you remaining upbeat is a big plus.

I have a 5 year old and a 1 year old and have been on the road for 6 years w/ them. On average we move every 3-9 months so I'll say I have some experience with taking children out of a familiar environment. They adjust so fast. I've found that keeping the home life and routine as consistent as possible helps smooth transitions like this.
He really sounds like an awesome kid! Good luck and I hope this school is everything you've hoped for.

At 6:33 AM, Blogger ewe are here said...

Based on his questions to you, I'm sure he'll be fine. He sounds like a smart, determined boy who knows what he wants.

I changed schools between the first and second grade, public to private in the Bay Area. The public school district didn't have a gifted programa that I'd qualified for, so my parents yanked me. It was the right call, and, the reality was, I didn't fit in perfectly in either school, but the private placement was a better fit overall. And the education was worth it.

I'll probably struggle with my tendency to 'helicopter parent' as well when MF and Baby Boo hit school age. I already find myself asking MF's nursery workers - who he only sees 2 1/2 days a week! - how he's doing, does he play well with others, is he making friends, etc etc. They probably laugh at me.

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What school are you switching to? were you at Westerly and now moving? just curious- getting ready to send one to Kinder next fall-
one love

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Little Miss said...

It's only Kindergarten. Kids are resilient to these things. (young ones are--I was in middle school and resentful) At least you guys aren't moving out of state and changing everything else in your lives as well. keep things as consistent as you can, and he'll be just fine.

but I'd be lying if I told you I wouldn't worry just as much as you are right now...

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Awesome Mom said...

We moved quite frequently when I was in Elementary school. Our most sudden move was actually kind of welcome to me since I was not doing all that well socially. Sadly I did worse in the new school but really I don't think I was too warped from the entire thing. I managed to get over it and be a contributing member to society.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger crazymumma said...

Your son sounds sort of excited as indicated by his desire to go and see the new school. I am sure, him being the kid he is and you being the mum you are that he is going to make the transition just fine.
Maybe a party in a couple of weeks with his 'old' friends and his 'new' friends. Nothing like a party to ease the transition.

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You worry too much.


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