We decided to put Zachary in kindergarten in the new town, even though he had been in Pre-K in Los Angeles. He was bored in his old preschool, plus we thought that it was best to minimize the transitions over the next year. So, his first day of kindergarten, rather than being a proud September milestone, was the last day of November, just four days after we arrived in this very small town.
We took him to the school playground to play over the weekend, for all the good that did. He kept telling us, “I want to get to school so that it will be over with.” Just the attitude we wanted from our five-year-old.
I had that first morning all planned out. I would take the double stroller so that the younger two kids could sit while I took care of delivering Zachary to his teacher. I brought along apples – my favorite method of crown control. I thought through exactly what I would pack in his bag and what I would dress him in.
However, the unfortunate fact is that parents simply cannot absorb their children’s anxiety for them. The first day of kindergarten in a brand-new place with kids who already know each other is terrifying. There is no way around that.
We went in a few minutes before drop-off to meet his teacher, a long-term substitute who, it turns out, was starting on the same day as Zachary because the regular teacher is out on maternity leave. Then we went outside to line up with the other kids.
Zach – my brave little guy – stuck close to me. I turned the stroller so that he could talk to his siblings, thereby giving him a face-saving activity in case all the other kids were checking him out. He chattered to me, clearly trying to make conversation so that he would seem cool in front of his new classmates. They are five; they have yet to learn that talking to one’s mother is not exactly the height of cool.
Then, it was time for him to line up. He stood between two boys. “This is the line for kindergarten,” the boy behind him said.
“I’m going into kindergarten,” Zach replied.
“How old are you?” the child challenged.
“I’m five.” He held up the fingers, because accompanying hand gestures put everyone at ease.
The boy in front stood right in front of Zach, his chest almost pressed against the poor kid’s face. “I’m taller than you are.”
Having gone to a Jewish preschool, Zachary has been spared the knowledge that he is very, very short for his age. In that moment, the first interaction he had with his future classmates, he was forced to come to terms with his diminutive stature and at the same time find a face-saving response. The other mothers weren’t even aware of the conversation, but my stomach was sinking. Just then, the teacher stepped out and waved in the kids.
As he ran into the school with the line, Zach called out, “That’s because I only eat bread!”
A few minutes later, when I had to pop into the room to pick up his epipen, he was sitting in the back of the group, looking so anxious that I was certain he was about to vomit all over the classroom floor. Yet, when I picked him up that afternoon, both he and his teacher said he had a great day. Apparently, a little girl with glasses had taken him under her wing and pointed out every single feature of the school.
Of course, when we got home, he had to replay the entire “I’m taller than you are” conversation. “I told them it’s because I only eat bread.”
“Well, what did they say in response?”
“Nothing. They couldn’t respond to that. That’s why it was a good answer,” he replied.
You know what? I think this kid is going to be OK.