Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kindergarten Drop-Off

I'm finally feeling a little better about kindergarten.
Kissing hand heart
The kissing hand doesn't work, Mom!

Today was the first day that Nolan didn't bawl his eyes out during drop-off. Last week was pretty rough. Nolan's first day of kindergarten was emotional, as expected. But the next day, the day after that, and the rest of the week? Even more gut-wrenching. Every morning, Nolan woke up wailing, "I don't want to go to school!" Every night, his last words at bedtime were, "I don't want to go to school!"

Nolan was the only kid in his class who cried at drop-off. His older brother was quite different at this age. Nico never wanted anyone to see him cry. Whenever he felt sad but knew other people were nearby, Nico would quickly pull himself together and wipe his face with his sleeve, saying, "I don't want anyone to see my tears." Nolan, on the other hand, seems to want everyone to see him cry - and the louder the better. Other parents looked at me sympathetically every morning as he carried on, clinging to me.

All last week, Nolan sobbed and said he wanted to stay home with me. When I said I had to go to yoga class, he said he wanted to learn yoga too. When I said I had to buy groceries, he said he wanted to help me. When I said I needed to work, he said he would keep me company. He sobbed until he hiccuped, gasping, "I - don't - want - to - go - to - school. I'm so scaaaaaaared!" I pointed to the tiny heart I drew on his hand for him to look at during the day when he felt sad. "It doesn't work, Mom!" he cried. "I still miss you so badly!" That was the precise moment when my heart shattered.

I started to second-guess our decision to enroll Nolan in kindergarten this year. He was close to the age cutoff and I had seriously considered waiting another year before enrolling him. Some of our friends have delayed their children's kindergarten start by a year, and i thought it might make sense for Nolan too. He's young, he's shy, he's small. Also, we live in an area where academics are highly emphasized and I'm surrounded by Tiger Moms. Are we setting him up to fail by launching him into the den too early?

Just when I started thinking about an exit strategy for de-enrolling him from kindergarten and putting him back in preschool, we hit a turning point. Yesterday morning, Nolan cried, as usual, and his teacher led him by the hand into the classroom. She said they would work on their self-portraits and told him, "Today, we're going to put clothes on them!" She whispered to me, "Don't worry. Once he's inside, he's fine!"

Nolan must have had a great day because after school, he told me, "I might not be sad tomorrow." This morning, he woke up and said, "I'm not going to be scared today." As we walked to his classroom, he reiterated his feelings: "Maybe on other days I might be sad but not today." At his classroom door,  he asked me to draw a tiny heart on his hand, which has now become part of our daily routine, so I colored one on his left hand with a pink highlighter. The bell rang so we ran out of time before he could draw one on my hand. I looked at him to see if he would fall apart. To my surprise, he didn't. He said, "Don't worry, Mommy. I'll draw a heart for you later. I'll give you lots of hugs and kisses and love after school." Then he hitched up his dinosaur backpack, got in line with his classmates and walked into his classroom, blowing kisses at me with both hands. He was dry-eyed. I was not. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kindergarten and kissing hands

Nolan's first day of kindergarten
Nolan holds his kissing hand

My baby started kindergarten this week.

Nolan's first day of school started out kinda shaky. He barely touched his breakfast of oatmeal with fresh strawberries. He was restless and defiant. He had to be pried from the elaborate setup he built of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks and Legos. 

I dressed him in his favorite dinosaur shirt and helped him put on his brand-new dinosaur backpack. I told him what I packed for his lunch, which included a special treat - a blueberry fruit strip. He stared at me stone-faced.

When I asked him to pose for a photo with his brother Nico, who was starting fifth grade, he refused. My husband and I reminded him that he and his brother would finally be in the same school together and how exciting it was! He said he wanted to go back to preschool.

Before we left for school, I sat down with Nolan and reminded him of his first day of preschool. "Remember when I drew that little heart on your hand? So if you were sad and missed me, you could look at the heart and remember that I love you?" He nodded. I drew a little red heart on his left hand. "Could you draw a heart on my hand so I can look at it when I miss you today?" I asked him. He took the marker and drew a little heart on my left hand. We kissed each others' little red hearts and walked out the door, hand in hand.

Surprisingly, we were the first to arrive at his classroom. Nolan's teacher had set up a table outside with nametags of all the students. Nolan found his and I helped him stick it to his shirt. The other kids arrived and then I started feeling anxious too. My little guy was much smaller than some of his classmates, as I predicted. Nolan is small for his age and has a late birthday that just made the age cutoff. Also, there seems to be a trend toward academic redshirting, particularly with boys. 

I've been having a hard time letting go of all the hangups I have about Nolan and kindergarten. I need to accept the fact that Nolan may well be the youngest, smallest kid in his class. I have to let go of the idea that he and Nico are not going to elementary school together in Ohio, as I had long envisioned. He will not have the great teachers Nico had in Cleveland Heights. But it's still hard to let go of these dreams. When Nico had started kindergarten, I was pregnant with Nolan. Nico's teacher was fantastic (her name - no joke - is Mrs. Miracle) and I had hoped that someday Nolan would have her as a kindergarten teacher too.

I need to let go of the idea that Nolan must have all the exact same happy experiences his older brother has had. Besides, Nolan has had his own share of great teachers too. Just like with his brother, Nolan's day care and preschool teachers have all been wonderful and each one has simply adored him. We are lucky that both boys have always had caring, nurturing teachers.

So anyway, as the other kindergarteners and their parents arrived, I saw that they looked nervous and excited too. There were lots of fancy cameras and iPhones on the scene. We buzzed about taking photos and introducing ourselves. Finally, the bell rang and the teacher came out. I had heard great things about her already and if I had to conjure up a dream teacher for Nolan, it would look just like her.

The teacher had the kids line up to enter the classroom. As they walked toward the door, Nolan waved and blew kisses at me. All of us parents tried to follow the kids into the room and had to be shooed out. 

I cried and had to look at the tiny red heart on my hand.