Last week, I walked my daughter through the doors of our local elementary school, a folder full of paperwork in my hot little hands, ready to sign her up for kindergarten. She is my youngest and last child, so I was feeling some mighty big feels, you guys. Make no mistake about it, registering your child for kindergarten is a big deal, and is sure to prompt a flood of relentless, overwhelming and even conflicting emotions. Hell, even though I'm familiar with her future school — not only does her older brother currently attend, but her father and I went there as children as well — and know and love the teachers, administration, and community, I couldn't keep those big feels at bay. This is my baby we're talking about, you guys!
Sending my children to "big kid school" has always been sort of emotional for me, and I think it's symbolic more than practical (not that I haven't had practical concerns as well). It feels very much like handing them over to the world and the process of becoming independent adults. And, certainly, we're a long ways from that and I do want that for them, but it's still a lot to wrap your brain around, you know? It feels like I finally got a handle on one way of doing things, and now we're switching gears and things are getting a little bumpy again. But I guess that's parenting in general... and also, you know, life.
So if you find yourself getting bogged down in the following thoughts, know you're not alone. I have a hunch that damn near every parent thinks the following things when they're registering their baby for kindergarten:
"Where The Hell Is That Birth Certificate?"
Why is the damn birth certificate never, ever with all the rest of the important paperwork? Also, why is all the other important paperwork here and not where I thought I put it? Also, like, why do you even need it really? Can't we just go on the honor system here? Why would I register a strange child for kindergarten? Who does this for fun? Is people registering random children for kindergarten, like, a thing? Or, like, people putting wigs on their pets and pretending they're people because it's cheaper than doggy daycare or something?
"OK, So Which Medical Forms Do I Need?"
Because you handed me a bunch and, TBH, they all convey exactly the same information over and over again. And, I mean, can the doctor just fill this one out, because I honestly don't know some of this information. And what if my insurance doesn't cover their annual check up just yet? Can I just get it to you before the beginning of the school year? Can I just assure you that they're fully vaccinated? Because they absolutely are. Help me out here, people.
"How Is This Happening?"
I swear I just brought this kid home from the hospital, like, last week.
OK, so it's been five years, but I feel like that's besides the point! This is all happening very fast and I feel like I'm being rushed.
"They're Going To Get Lost In This Big Building!"
The actual size of the building — big or small — is immaterial. Every kindergarten parent I've ever talked to has expressed some degree of worry about their little one getting lost. I've definitely considered it and lived in fear of it. If I think about it logically, of course, there's nothing to worry about (they're well supervised and if they ever get actually lost there's a whole building full of adults to help them). But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a solid 50 percent of parental worries aren't based on anything logical or statistically likely, so here we are.
"You Want Me To Put Them On A Bus?!*
Obviously not all students ride the bus — city kids can often walk and some districts (like my last one) don't have busing. However, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union, 55 percent of all students K-12 ride a bus to school. While school buses are the "safest vehicle on the road," according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, parents are nevertheless often worried because their child is getting into a vehicle without them, and because we've been really invested in car seat safety over the past few years and why don't they even have seat belts?! Safety concerns aside, there's a social aspect to the bus that might worry us, too.
"How Is The Teacher Going To Get Them To Sit For That Long?"
Seriously, I can't get my kid to stay still for an episode of Sesame Street. Even when they're paying attention and engaged in something for an extended period of time they're doing, like, five other things and moving all over the place. And you're telling me the teacher is going to get 20 of them to chill out for the entire day?
Share your secrets with me, teacher.
"Will They Be Understood?"
Will people understand the words coming out of their mouth? Will they be understood on an emotional level? Will instructors and kids alike be able to understand when they're cranky versus truly upset and maybe in need of a little extra gentleness?
As parents, we've spent five or more years tuning into our child and learning how best to nurture them, and now we're just setting them loose among people who just met them? WHAT?!
*Quietly Compare Your Kid To Other Kids*
We're not supposed to do this, but we all do and I don't think you can blame us too much.
It's not a "better or worse" thing. It's more like a "does my child appear to be at the same level social, developmentally? Are they going to vibe with these kids? Should I worry that Little Tyler over there knew what a trapezoid was and my kid insists it's 'a funny triangle'? I think that's adorable but are other people going to judge them for that? Did that other kid just punch someone? Should I tell my kid to steer clear of them? Or is that only going to make the other child feel more isolated and therefore more aggressive? Is it a problem that my kid wants to stack the books other kids appear to be reading? OMG is that kid reading already? Should I have worked harder to get mine to start reading?! I thought you start that in kindergarten" type thing.
The list goes on and on. From someone who has been there, trust me when I say the swathe of normal is enormous. Don't stress out.
*Quietly Compare Yourself To Other Parents*
"Why am I the only one here who looks like they're ready to cry? Why is no one else crying? What do they know that I don't know? Or what do I know that they don't know? Shouldn't we all be crying right now? I feel like we could use a good cathartic cry. No? Just me? Fine, I'll cry in the car... and maybe get a doughnut. The doughnut will understand me."
"Will They Be Happy Here?"
We want so, so much for our children, but perhaps nothing more than for them to be happy. So we can't help but wonder if going to kindergarten is going to contribute to their happiness. Obviously they have to go to school at some point, but are they going to be OK here?
"Should I Hold Them Back?"
This is an especially rough decision for parents whose kids' birthdays bump up against the cutoff. (My son is less than a month from the cutoff where he started school and it was for sure a dilemma.) There's no one right answer and it's a decision every family has to make for themselves based on their own set of circumstances, but it's often a tough decision.
"How Can I Prepare In The Coming Months?"
Should I work on academic stuff? Social stuff? How do I do that in either case? Should I try to get them pumped up to go to school or do I run the risk of over-hyping it? Should I just focus on letting them soak up their last school-free days for the next 13 years (at least)?
Specific "kindergarten readiness" plans will depend on the kid in question, but it's something you can absolutely discuss with your child's preschool teacher and/or their future school, who will have some basic resources for you (at the very least a list of skills they expect kindergarteners to come in with). Again, remember that the swathe of normal is very broad!
"Where Did My Baby Go?"
They're still so little... but they're also so big. When did this happen? How is this happening? Again: why am I the only one crying?!