The message for parents about the first day of kindergarten has always been clear and simple: You are going to cry.
I think what makes kindergarten so traumatic for parents is that you're battling a transition on two fronts: your challenges as a parent and the challenges you feel on behalf of your child.
As a parent, my biggest challenge is having to see myself in a whole new category: The School-Aged Parent. Being a School-Aged Parent seems to carry with it a greater expectation that you have some idea of what you're doing here. I mean sure, we were all just newbies back in the baby and toddler years, young parents just testing the waters. But now, now we are honest-to-goodness, full-fledged parents. I mean, I remember when my own parents were School-Aged Parents, and they seemed like they knew what they were doing. I guess it's time I buck up and figure out what I'm doing, too.
And on top of having to accept my new change in status, I had to deal with the fear I felt on behalf of my child. It's a fairly well-established fact that parents often grossly overestimate the emotional trauma their children are experiencing. I was so terrified for my kid to get on a bus and find his way in a whole new place with a whole new level of seriousness. And I think he was a little bit nervous, but for the most part a child's limited worldview protects him or her from truly grasping the magnitude of a situation.
I, on the other hand, spent the whole month of August feeling like I had a horrifying Date With Destiny looming right on the horizon. It didn't help that my kid seemed to be the only kid on the planet who wasn't giddily excited for kindergarten. Nathan tends to be like Larry David: He curbs his enthusiasm.
So I felt like I had to rally him and give him a daily talk about how long it was until kindergarten, and what would happen at kindergarten, and how you are supposed to behave at kindergarten, and OMG yay rah rah kindergarten!
It was exhausting.
I spent about a month agonizing over every detail. He had to have two completely new outfits, down to socks and underwear: one for Meet the Teacher Day and one for the actual first day. I bought all the school supplies on the list a month in advance. I carefully organized all my forms on a clipboard. We did recon to stake out the bus stop location. We worked for three weeks to establish a new school sleeping schedule and new school morning routines.
Finally the day I referred to as Kindergarten Day Zero came. That was the first day of school for the older kids, but for kindergarten it just meant you came with your parents for a special assigned hour of orientation. I agonized over my own personal appearance that day, as though the teacher would think something like, Wow, that Nathan sure has a promising academic future. I know because his mom matched her earrings to her sweater so well.
The orientation was a bit chaotic. But totally fine. And also over within an hour, so I had to spend the rest of the day dealing with a kid who couldn't process the feelings brought on by this transition, and thus more or less acted like a moody teenage girl.
[Here is where you might see some pictures of Nathan in his classroom on Kindergarten Day Zero, if I could find the camera I took them on.]
The next day, Friday, was Kindergarten Day One. That was the day Nathan would go by himself. We followed the school's advice to have him start out taking the bus to school from the very beginning, because the beginning is when there are special helpers on the bus to help kids know what to do.
So our whole family headed out at 7:00 a.m. to wait for the bus. Nathan was a bit keyed up, so these are the closest I could get to the classic First Day of School photo:
Bill wanted the actual embarkation of the bus to be captured in video form, so if you really want to see what a kid getting on a school bus looks like, you can watch this video. Of particular note is that the bus sat there forever before leaving, so I had to stand there and endure the brutal long moments of watching my baby stare at me through a bus window.
So he went to school. And I set about my day. I'm sure that I will spend every day for the rest of Nathan's academic career complaining about how quickly the day passes, but that first day really dragged. I was just terrified that he'd come home with a report of bad behavior, the way he had on his first day of preschool. I just kept thinking, I don't care if you get in trouble somewhere down the line, just please don't get in trouble on the very first day.
Eventually the day passed. The bus came back with Nathan. Good report!
Not only that, but he exclaimed, I wish I could be in kindergarten forever! That sort of gushing means a lot coming from Nathan.
Of course, I was sort of like, well, shoot, you're all rarin' to go, and now it's the weekend.
But this weekend I also found myself relaxing for the first time in weeks. The first day of kindergarten is behind us. And yes, we have about a million more days of school to get through.
But I survived the first day of kindergarten.