On Sunday I had to break the news to Smoke that Monday would be a school day. I wasn’t sure how he’d take it. So far, he hasn’t been forthcoming about his kindergarten experience. At the end of every day I’ve asked him “What was the best part of your day?” and every day he’s answered, “Recess.”
“You feel that way already?” Kellie asked him on day one. I guess we both hoped he’d say he loved learning songs in circle time, or mastering sight words during reading. But both of Smoke’s best friends go to his school, both have been assigned to different classrooms, and so recess is a twenty-minute parent-free play date. Of course that’s his favorite.
So, anyhow, I wasn’t sure if he’d be excited or disappointed to learn that Monday was imminent, and that Monday meant the beginning of the school week. We were lying sideways on the bed, and I gave it to him straight: “Tomorrow is a kindergarten day.”
“What?” he answered. His lower lip quivered. “But that’s not fair—I haven’t had enough home days!”
I understood where he was coming from. During the school year, I never feel like I’ve had enough home days. For the last two months, I’ve had the luxury of summer, where home days and work days blend together. I’ve taught one online class and paid for childcare here and there; most days I’ve graded papers through nap time or answered emails on the fly. I’ve been relieved from the Pressure To Perform during the workweek, followed by the Pressure to Do All the Shopping and Connect with All the People and Do All the Laundry and also RELAX and HAVE FUN on the weekend. Instead, I just worry about attending to one thing or another, keeping the kids happy enough, and hopefully enjoying some part of the day. I’m a little productive and a little bit restful, and the rest is just survival. That’s how it should be.
I think that’s also how it’s been for Smoke up until now. For the last several years, he’s gone to preschool two days a week, played at a friend’s house the other two, and had three days at home. So, kindergarten is actually his initiation into the American-Capitalist workweek.
And while before this week I’d been imagining that kindergarten is all fun and games, all circle time and finger painting, Smoke’s tears over home days have helped me to remember what school felt like for me as a child. School felt: Relentless. Every day I spent seven hours at the mercy of my teachers. We lined up outside the school and waited in the weather for first bell. We’d be shuffled then to homeroom, then to art or music, then to recess, then to reading groups. We moved always in single file, and every segment of the day was marked by the shrill sound of the school bell that rang through every classroom.
My teachers were kind. I admired them; I wanted to please them. But having so little agency exhausted me, and so I welcomed any break—holidays and sick days, weekends and vacations. I didn’t call them “home days,” as Smoke does, but that’s what I longed for. Days to sit in the square of sun that came through the window, days to keep my pajamas on till noon, days to meander on my bike, or play Barbies, or put my new reading skills to use. Days where home was at the center of my day, not just the place where it started and ended.
Monday came, as it always does, and Smoke woke up without my help. He dressed himself and packed his own lunch without complaining about the day ahead. But when we arrived at school it took minutes for him to settle into the kindergarten lineup, and once he had he stared off into space. He was slack jawed and just a little pale, his eyes unfocused. He looked unmistakably weary.
Smoke is right. Two days just don’t yield enough time to recoup what the workweek has taken.
Agh. Flashbacks and sympathy pangs.
Lovely post with so many evocative passages. Here is a thought. Harlan might enjoy kindergarten more if he was in a classroom with one of his close friends. Collin’s grade school actually made it a practice to make sure every kid had 1 or 2 buds in his or her class to make learning more inviting and to reduce potential anxiety. One year they messed up and grouped all of Collin’s good friends in one classroom while leaving Collin separated and on his own in another. As a result, they were willing to move Collin if he did not acclimate to his best-friendless class. Maybe you could talk to Harlan and find out if sharing his daily learning adventures with one of his familiar, beloved pals would make things more fun and inviting. Ideally, there should be enough pleasure in a kindergartener’s day to make Monday’s okay.
I’m keeping a very curious eye on his friend-making. I think it’s hard on some level that he sees his best buds at recess since it keeps him from playing with new friends from his own class. I think he’s starting to settle in though. (knocking wood now.)
You are a wise woman. We never had to transfer Collin into the class with his established buds because he ended up forming solid friendships with kids in his “class of strangers”. But I think it helped that he knew he had options.
Ah, adjusting to back-to-school. Even the teachers looked numb this morning!! Here’s hoping it all gets more exciting, in a good way. At least there’s the afternoons… and the leaves changing colors…
Oh, the weather has been spectacular. That does make a difference.
Your description of all that we try to fit into school-year weekends feels so true. It’s impossible to get all of the chores done AND take care of the kids AND do fun things AND find time to relax.
I used to work four days a week. When I took my current job I knew I would miss my Fridays off, but I didn’t realize just how much I would miss them. I had gotten used to those extra hours in which I could get started on the weeks’ laundry or run to Target or spend some lazy hours at home connecting with my kid. And there was the added bonus of having one less day in which we needed to pack lunches and get everyone dressed and out the door at a certain time. Sigh. I’m definitely with Smoke on this one.
It’s amazing the difference an extra day makes: sanity!
I love how you are able to see his point of view clearly 🙂 When I think of school it seems like such an effort time- but yeah, at such a young age it also seemed endless.. with not just days and weeks but years and years to go.
Thanks Diahann. I do *try* to see his point of view, but inevitably it’s distorted through my grown-up understanding and my own childhood lens. I remember looking forward to the day I would be free from school. Joke’s on me though, since I teach community college. 😉