Mother: Despite my being ignorant to the fact that it was the school bus that my daughter was afraid of, even more than school itself, she did eventually adjust enough to make it through her Kindergarten year. In all honesty though, I think that she did not adjust to riding the bus as much as she accepted her miserable fate..oh the guilt. It breaks my heart even now, two decades later, to think of putting her little tear-stained face on the bus. And for what? All in all, Kindergarten sucked more life out of her than it gave.
Summer flew by, filled with free play and fun, reading and swimming, family and cookouts. The jaws of the school bus came around again, this time gobbling up my little girl for the an entire seven hour day. I would come to detest those back-to-school commercials that portrayed the gleeful mom, happily shopping for her kids, knowing they would be “out of her hair” soon. For some of us, back-to-school was something to dread. And in those early years I could not shake the nagging feeling that our current setup was just a matter of inertia. My kids were reading, learning, and exploring the world outside of school, with joy. What in would they gain by joining the masses in a building that seemed to drain the joy from them? Could anything be less natural a way to learn and grow than what our society deems mandatory? What about freedom? What about play and creativity? And peace and authenticity? What about their brief childhood ?
But school is the norm. School is what we do to kids. School is what kids do. And therefore I was scared to face how wrong it felt to me for us. I was almost scared to think it, let alone speak it.
What if I became a dissident?
What if I didn’t?
I taught Kindergarten long ago, before I became a parent. It was hard. I recall being under significant pressure to get all the kids “up to speed” and ready for first grade. There were twenty-five of them. Part of me just wanted to set them free. I wanted to let them stay outside, or play indoors all day if they wanted, or go home, or take more than twenty minutes to eat their lunches. I wanted to let them climb in my lap at circle time and skip nap time – or extend nap time if they were tired. But I was a professional with an assigned agenda, not their mother. I felt conflicted and overwhelmed.
At that time, I worked with some fabulous people who made teaching their career and have family members and friends who did as well. Getting done what must get done in a school year while simultaneously nurturing a child’s sense is a tall order. I feel strongly that we should value the teachers who do this well. They spend over a thousand hours with our children in a given year! This is important. If a child feels safe -safe to learn, safe to be curious, safe to be herself- at a school, in a classroom, with a teacher, then wow, this is the season for open heavens, rejoice! If your child loves and embraces being at school? Thank your lucky stars.
To “celebrate” Brittni’s first day of first grade, (I was trying very hard to put a positive spin on this, and to focus on the success! She went! She arrived back home!) I had the bad idea that our family would go out to dinner. What was I thinking? Oh to be able to go back in time and let the older, wiser me make some past decisions. I think this is why I don’t often get nostalgic- In so many instances, I want a redo. This day is one of them.
We all piled into the car and drove the fifteen minutes to the restaurant. The next scene involves Brittni hugging a telephone pole outside the car, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs, wanting to go back home.
Why someone did not call the cops at this obvious sign of a kidnapping, I have no idea. But at that point I really thought we could not allow her to dictate the family’s evening plans, and so we waited it out, doing our best to soothe her tantrum, and assure her that dinner really could be pleasant and peaceful.
All of us a little less hungry at this point, but no longer making a scene on Main Street, we got through that meal quietly, deflated.
And here is what I now know, and what Brittni articulated many years later: School took every single ounce of her energy and then some- to pay attention, to follow the rules, to tune out the noise and focus on the teacher, to be around many people, all day long as an introvert, to squelch the desire for quiet, for art, for more movement- to be a good girl.
And she was being a good girl at school! The teachers were happy with how diligent she was doing her work. She was easy, quiet, smart.
Then she came home and lost it. And I wondered what had happened to my child. What was school doing to her? And why couldn’t I fix it?
And when she calmed down, she would sit at the kitchen table doing her homework, glancing out the window and asking aloud one day, “Is anyone really free?”
School may have been sucking the life out of her, but it was giving her some very big questions.