This week marked a momentous occasion for our family when my oldest son began Kindergarten. While his parents anxiously watched, he exuberantly embrace this new adventure unphased at our inauspicious trial run at Kinder Camp the week before. I, on the other hand, fretted endlessly over whether the school was capable of protecting a beloved member of my family and while I’ve never considered myself a helicopter parent, I felt a strong need for reassurance that everything would work out in the end.
Kinder Camp the week before added to my anxiety rather than providing reassurance. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was that the playground was not completely fenced and my son could escape to the front or back parking lots or choose any number of doors into the school building. The school building and the classrooms had multiple entrances and exits, most likely to accommodate the 950 students arriving every morning. Just before I left my son in his classroom with his teacher and classmates and joined other parents in the cafeteria for a presentation from the school administrators, I noticed that there were seats for 20 students in my son’s class with no assistant teacher in sight.
I might have warned the teacher about my son who, like many boys, has a tendency to roam and disappear without close supervision, but she was surrounded by a dozen parents all trying to get a bit of her attention. I left my son assuming that his teacher was accustom to working in these conditions and all would be well. Of course, when I returned to his classroom, his teacher was once again surrounded by a dozen parents, all doors to the classroom were open, presumably to expedite the exit of parents and children after orientation, and my son was nowhere to be found. I finally found him walking through the door from the front parking lot. He wandered off in search of me when I wasn’t among the first parents to enter the classroom.
The first day of school was chaotic with 950 students and half again as many parents all escorting their children to class and bidding them goodbye. A friend told me she had a tradition of taking her son to school on the first day every year and apparently this is a widely used tradition. Parents were everywhere, primping their little ones, giving them last minute hugs, taking pictures, and providing last minute advice. We walked our son to class, took a quick picture outside the classroom, helped him find his cubby and his desk, and got out of there as quickly as possible while saying a prayer that he wouldn’t wander off.
Picking him up was an even bigger nightmare as even more parents arrived to pick their children up from the first day of school (somehow they fit 200 or more cars into a parking lot the size of a soccer field). I couldn’t find the beginning or end of the line (and I arrived 15 minutes early), so I parked by the curb and walked up to the door to wait with a dozen other parents who were as lost as I was. The first teacher I spoke with told me I needed to wait in the line of cars (now a 45 minute wait) to pick up my son. Fortunately, my son’s Kindergarten teacher allowed him to walk back to the car with me and avoid that wretched line.
That night we discovered that there were a myriad of forms we needed to fill out and return to the school the next day. Of course, we didn’t have the actual forms, just a list of forms that needed to be returned. You would think the school district website or even the school website would have a tab for forms on their home page considering the amount of information they require from parents, but apparently that would make our job too easy. Instead we went through every page on their website searching for the forms online only to find them in a remote location buried four links deep.
Exhausted and frustrated after the first two days, I wondered if we would ever get through this uncomfortable experience. I’m relieved to say that we made it through our first week and am hopeful we won’t be put through that experience again. Kindergarten has changed so much since my husband and I were children when playgrounds were completely fenced, classes had 10-15 students, and classrooms had one door. It wasn’t until the last day of the first week of school I was able to give my son the advice I wish someone had given me: The most important thing you will learn in school is how to make friends. Pay attention to your teacher. Learn how to read, write, and perform arithmetic, but most importantly, learn how to make friends. It’s a skill that will serve you well into old age.