Today is my son’s first day of Kindergarten.
Though he doesn’t know or understand it yet, today is the first day of at least thirteen years of formal education and savoring summers. It’s a rough cycle for a four-year-old to understand and it’s even more rough for a 39-year-old to have to explain.
Instead of dwelling on the responsibilities and the homework and the things he’ll need to do in school to succeed we’ve mostly talked about the fun of riding the school bus every day, the desk full of school supplies that is awaiting him and the coolness behind the concept of letting him order his own lunch in the cafeteria. He seems genuinely excited, but deep down I don’t think he’s buying it.
Since about the age of 9 months my son has been going to day care. That slowly morphed into “school” and “Pre-K” as he got older but it was really only a lightly structured babysitting service. Basic math and reading skills were taught not out of some urgent need to have the children grow as humans but more as a way to keep them busy. It was generally a care-free existence where not much was expected of the kids besides basic manners.
Those kids, and my son, were generally “free” to do and discover as they pleased.
All that has come to an end.
Today he begins school.
Yesterday was the only one brief day in his live when he was not enrolled in a daycare and he hadn’t yet started school. I took the day off from work and we had a sort of Daddy and Son Bacchanalian feast of fun four a four-year-old.
In the morning we bought a new video game for the Wii and we played it until we were dizzy. We took a quick trip to the doctor to pick up forms for school and then we were off to lunch with Mommy at the mall where we had pizza and ice cream and the topped it off with a movie, a second viewing of the only G-rated film around: Cars 2. A quick tour around the mall burned off some energy before we drove home (he thankfully napped in the car on the way back) and then we finished the evening with more video games, a dinner of chicken nuggets (a far-too common meal these days), twenty minutes of wrestling on the big bed and a quick showing of Jimmy Neutron, the Father’s Day Special. Bath and a bed-time story rounded out the day for our soon-to-be Kindergartener.
He mentioned school once or twice, but generally it wasn’t at the top of his mind.
For Mommy and Daddy, though, it’s been the all-consuming primary topic. Will our four-year-old be able to navigate on and off the bus okay? How will he get to his classroom? Will he make new friends? Will he be scared? Will he find the bathrooms? Will he enjoy school at all? These are not things a four-year-old is able to fully comprehend or verbalize yet.
As parents that’s our job. We worry for our children. Usually the worry is needless, but it’s what we do.
There are times when I want to hold him and squeeze him and do everything I can to prevent him from ever getting older. I like being his daddy and there’s no greater job I can think of than to always take care of my children. But I have to remind myself how selfish that is. To keep him as a perpetual four-year-old would rob him of all the great life experiences that still await him.
Deep down I know (okay, I think and hope) everything will be okay when he gets on that school bus. It usually is. There’s no lesson to be learned here. No moral. No ending. Our son is growing up and starting a new adventure. We’re worried for him, but we have to believe he’ll be just fine. We don’t know where the time went, but parents never do.
That’s how it is.
That’s what I keep telling myself.
Editor’s Note: This was originally written a few years ago. Everything worked out well, but the worries are all exactly the same.