I’m losing control over my son. And I don’t like it.
It all started with the homework. I was incensed — incensed, I tell you! — that my kindergartner had a homework calendar, with assignments every night. No, they’re not being asked to calculate the diameter of a circle. It’s stuff like: Think of five things that start with the letter “M.” Draw those things. Then label them. The teacher has told us that it’s OK to skip these assignments, or for the parent to do part of it. But I was annoyed that it was even a thing. Homework! For kindergartners!
Then, the reading chart. Every month, we get a reading chart with 30 slots, where we are to write in the number of books we read to our child every month. At orientation, one annoying-ass mother raised her hand and said: “What if you read MORE than 30 books in a month?” Oh, I dunno, you pain in the ass. Maybe … attach another sheet? By the way, while we’re at it, let’s just suck all the joy out of reading by making it a chore. Here’s to learning! Hooray!
Then, parent-teacher conferences … on the sixth week of school. The conference, on Monday from 12 to 12:20, was fine. I had to sit in a tiny chair. Bini’s teacher is a terrific lady: gentle, firm, very experienced. She had five neatly organized folders regarding my son. First, she showed me the academic and social goals Bini had set for himself, and her goals for him.
Then, she showed me his assessment test results (assessment test results?) and how to interpret them. We discussed the things he does well, and the things he needs to work on. Apparently, Bini’s involved in some battle of wills with the P.E. teacher, but Bini’s teacher sort of waved that off. In class, he’s super engaged and he participates and he works really hard.
After we’d gone through the five folders, I stacked them up and said, “Well, I have to say I’m a little surprised at how … academic … kindergarten has gotten.” Kindergarten was a long time ago for me, but I’m damn sure we weren’t worrying about writing or phoneme segmentation. We were laying around on beanbags, singing and learning how to line up and not hit each other. We napped.
Bini’s teacher has been teaching for 20 years, and she agreed that kindergarten has gotten a good deal more academic. She didn’t give her opinion on it, but I understand: When the economy tanks, schools get more focused on homework and churning out math and science majors. Art classes are handled by parent volunteers. That’s the deal if you go to a public school, even if it’s a public school in an affluent area. You’re at the whims of whatever wind is blowing through public education at the time.
So, even though Bini is doing well, I trudged home feeling like I could do better for my son. That scene from “The Wall” kept playing through my head. You know the one where the kids are wearing scary masks and there’s a meat grinder and the schoolmaster’s yelling about pudding? Well, the scene is copyrighted, so I can’t post it. My mood was dark and my thoughts weren’t terribly rational.
All that day, I comforted myself with vague plans to pull my son out of his excellent public school and put him in an alternative private school where you forage for berries and learn how to chop wood. Like I said. Not terribly rational.
I’ve calmed down since. It helped that I talked to Steve, who said, “I don’t necessarily want to pull our son out of a school because it’s too academic.” Which is Steve-ese for: “Chill out, you psycho.” So, OK.
Today, it all crystallized. I walked the walk-pool to school; Nora told me about something to do with shoes, and I yelled out for Bini and Timmy to stop running. I ushered them through the big double doors out onto the playground, where they line up. But around the basketball court, Bini turned to me and said, “Mom, you can go now. You don’t need to wait with me.”
Ooof — shot to the solar plexus. “OK, just let me make sure all of you get into line.”
Bini shook his head. “Mom, we do this every day. We’re OK.” He tugged on my pants and I leaned down for a kiss. Then he ran off.
I didn’t leave. I ducked behind a pillar and watched until the bell rang. I couldn’t take my eyes off my son, who alternately joked with his buddies and stood quietly, taking it all in. When the bell rang, the kindergartners shrieked in unison. I fought the urge to wave to Bini as he trooped up the ramp, into his sunny, friendly kindergarten classroom.
Then I turned and walked home. And cried.