A couple days ago, I went to the kindergarten information night at my local elementary school. My daughter will be entering kindergarten next year but I don’t know what business I had going to the meeting considering that my son was just finishing his kindergarten year at the same school and that prior to sending him there, I never did anything but verify the address of the school.
Last year we decided to move to this school district at the last minute. I don’t mean the last minute, literally. We actually decided to move about one week (10,080 minutes) before the start of the school year while we were on our summer vacation in Colorado and still residing in Manhattan. I spent about one day (1440 minutes) making phone calls to various financial and medical institutions in order to compile the necessary forms and funds necessary to rent an apartment and register for school, 90 minutes at the FedEx counter to send the forms, about 800 minutes traveling home, a few thousand minutes explaining to the kids that we were moving from one two bedroom apartment to another (slightly smaller) two bedroom apartment in NJ.
So you can go to a brand new school down the road. It will be Great Great Great! and So Awesome! Just like shots at the Doctor don’t really hurt.
No one believed me.
As I fell asleep on the night before the first day of school, all of us on mattresses we had just bought at “Sleepy’s” while the rest of our belongings awaited transport from Manhattan, I said a little prayer.
Please let this be a good year. Please let this teacher be a great one. Or at least someone who is nice and patient with my “challenging” son. Please.
I knew nothing about this Mrs. Not-her-real-name, other than (as pointed out by my son) her name (the real one) rhymed with “Dorito.” The school district had hired her 5 days before the school year began to accommodate all of the last minute kindergarten registrants (of which we were one, although as I pointed out earlier, I think we actually registered a good 1500 minutes ahead of time).
The school had decided that the fair thing to do would be to give the new teacher the 22 students who had registered most recently, implementing a sort of last-come first-screwed philosophy. This made sense to all of the parents who were not among this group of 22. And it made sense to me, too, as literally the very last person to sign my child up for kindergarten. But, relying on my decades-old and rudimentary understanding of statistics, I worried about “selection bias,” how the kids who happened to be signed up last were not likely to be representative of the kindergarten population as a whole.
In other words, my son was going to be grouped with the dead-beats.
I mean he was going to be grouped with the offspring of my fellow dead-beat parents. No way those parents could be as negligent as I was, but doesn’t it make sense that the same people who lolly-gagged about kindergarten were also likely to share some of my other parenting foibles, like forgetting to send lunch, allowing too much TV, and oh, you know, letting the kids run around (the still unfurnished) apartment like sticky-faced savages?
I was worried. No matter how much her name evoked the image of a delicious snack food, how good could this teacher be? How could she handle this hand she was dealt?
I said my prayer and hoped for the best.
The first day of school came. Before my kids made it to school, I broke my husband’s cell phone and crashed the car. Still, no one got hurt and my son came back from school with a huge smile on his face.
Over the course of the next 9 months I watched my, sensitive, opinionated, perfectionistic, “I can’t do it!,” little grump blossom into a sensitive, opinionated, perfectionistic, “I can’t do it!,” bigger grump who, nevertheless, can read, write, do math, pick up after himself (but not at home), and make friends all while insisting that he will never ever be able to do all the things he wants to do in life, which now include, being a construction worker/police officer/dentist/owner of an organic grocery store/someone who manufactures office supplies.
There is only one person he loves as much as he loves his grandfather: Mrs. I-probably-shouldn’t-use-her-real-name-without-permission.
All I have to do when I want him to calm down and pay attention is say, “What would Mrs. Rhymes-with-Dorito think about this behavior?” Better than Pavlov’s bell, the mere mention of her name compels a reflexive response–to calm down and pay attention.
While many parents complain that their kids won’t tell them what happens at school, I had a different experience. That is, every day if I would let him, my would son assume the identity of “Teacher,” setting up a desk in our living room and assigning me classwork while reminding me that I “need to learn to work independently” and congratulating me profusely when I get something right. Sometimes I learned that I wouldn’t get “centers” at the end of the day if I failed to “stay on green and got “put in red.” He taught me the days of the week, months of the year, and how to do simple arithmetic. (He is still trying to get his sister to raise her hand before she speaks.)
And that group of kids about whom I had assumed the worst? They were great, just like all the other kids as far as I could see. There were some unusual demographic details, though. Like two of the girls wanted to learn to speak Korean because the other 8 girls were fluent in it. My son came home proclaiming to have learned to speak Russian from one of his classmates and wanted to know why he couldn’t learn Albanian. When I got the chance to read a book to the class I selected Rosemary Wells’s story about Yoko, a cat who was ridiculed for bringing sushi for lunch. About half of the class, including my son, professed a love for sushi and no one could understand why a child would be teased for liking it.
In short it was a great year, with a special class, and a truly talented teacher. So I was surprised to learn at the kindergarten meeting that Mrs. Gift-from-the-kindergarten-gods would not be returning next year. I was even more surprised that she was “asked to leave.”
For what? Displaying superhuman powers? Conjuring up black magic to transform an unruly bunch of 5 year-olds into an adorable troupe of students who, when I picked up my son to leave early one day last week, burst into a spontaneous display of “Good-bye! So long! See you later!” that rivaled the Family VonTrapp’s in cuteness.
I as I sat at the meeting as the principal introduced the prospective parents to the “stellar kindergarten team” I was confused.
They were missing one of their stars and didn’t even know it.