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End of the Year, First Day of Kindergarten: My Red-Shirting Surprise

kindergarten, first day of kindergarten

My daughter's first day of kindergarten was unexpected in more ways than one.

I wasn’t red-shirting my daughter, holding her back from kindergarten a year so she’d have an advantage over the other kids.  At least not on purpose, anyway. My daughter has one of those fall birthdays that would make her either one of the youngest – or oldest – kids in her class. When September 2010 came around she was only 4 and still having some potty issues that I thought might best be left in pre-school. Plus I knew we’d be moving and I wanted to wait to enroll her in an elementary school she could attend until it was time for junior high.

When we moved to Brooklyn last month, I couldn’t wait to visit our zone school – a school I’d heard nothing but good things about. I went to the main office to register my kid for kindergarten beginning this fall, but the admissions coordinator suggested she go right to first grade. I was surprised, to be sure, though a small part of me had a sneaking suspicion that might happen. I knew my daughter’s reading skills were impressive (no doubt thanks to my consistent and exuberant recitation of the romantic classics “Everyone Poops” and “What Color is Your Underwear?”), but what I didn’t know was that in New York State, kindergarten attendance isn’t mandatory. In fact, in most US states, kindergarten is not a pre-requisite for first grade. (As Busta Rhymes once said, if you don’t know, now you know.) Since she’s technically old enough to have started school last fall and she can read silently, skipping kindergarten just made sense.

I was flattered to think that my daughter might be gifted enough to go right into first grade, but I didn’t want to make the decision without her input. When I asked my lovely, precocious little kid how she felt about starting school in first grade, she said in a very solemn tone, “I need to think about it.” After about a day she decided she was in fact ready to go to first grade, and shortly thereafter, something amazing happened: her potty accidents stopped. Somehow, miraculously, she’s also stopped biting her nails. Thanks to the confidence instilled in her by the mere thought of being a first grader – and understanding the expectations that come along with it – my nail-biting, poop-covered baby has become a big girl in charge of herself, all in a matter of two weeks.

I can certainly relate to my child’s anxieties. As someone who has lived the bulk of the last few years constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when my ex decided to cut his child support payments virtually in half right after our move, in retaliation against my newfound bliss.  My lawyer suggested I wait until I could show a clear pattern of neglect on his part before pursuing it legally, which meant I’d have to struggle to pay for childcare for six weeks before any possible reprieve. I mentioned the situation offhandedly to a friend who came up with a brilliant solution. “Why not see if you can start kindergarten now?” she asked.  Park Slope kindergarten classes are notoriously overstuffed, but my friend suspected that there might be room, since it’s nearly the end of the year. She was right. Our school was so accommodating, and my daughter started class today.  If dealing with the fallout from my divorce has taught me one thing, it’s that there’s powerful truth behind all of those weird, old expressions your grandmother used to use.  Losing financial support made me realize you can’t squeeze blood from a stone, but you can turn lemons into lemonade.

The first day of kindergarten is typically a weepy one for moms, even mothers whose children have been in daycare since they were infants. There’s something so proper about kindergarten. It’s school, real school. When you send your kids to kindergarten, they change. They become independent little people. Though the first day of kindergarten was far from traditional for me, I still felt all the sappy, wonderful feelings most mothers do the week after Labor Day. I relished seeing all the other children, most of them boys – and much sweeter than I expected. I got an instant crush on my daughter’s teacher, the same way kindergarten kids do. “She’s so pretty, and so young!” I thought. “That’s good,” I reassured myself. “She’ll have lots of energy and enthusiasm.” I stayed through choice time. I cried when I saw the tank of hermit crabs. “Oh my God,” I sniffled to myself. “They have class pets! This is absolutely perfect.”

Yes, my daughter’s first day of kindergarten was all I could have dreamed of and more, especially since up until last week I didn’t think she’d have one. It’s amazing how, no matter what insanity has been thrown at me since my divorce, things have worked out beautifully. The old saying goes, “Living well is the best revenge,” and I’ve held fast to that. When I left my husband two years ago, I had no idea what was about to unfold. Today I watched my daughter build a wooden sculpture and I got to hold a hermit crab for the first time! Life is good. I can’t wait ’til first grade.

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