I went to orientation last night for parents of soon-to-be first graders. Shit has obviously changed a lot from when I was in school, which I knew. Kindergarten, I was shocked to find last fall, is no longer about singing songs, playing, coloring and taking naps on carpet squares but instead was full of nitty gritty school work, learning how to write, read, count, etc. Well, that was nothing. The five teachers who presented last night were talking about the larger task of preparing these kids for college, and how we all have a lot of work to do over the summer as parents in order to get the child ready for first grade.
Frankly, it was a little depressing. And very challenging. I tend to receive large assignments with a lot of initial dread until I feel like I have my arms around the thing and can actually make it happen. I took as many notes as I could and tried not to be intimidated by the handout, which basically suggests that I should become a first grade teacher this summer and spend every spare, waking minute my child has with him on school-related tasks.
There is a part of me that thinks, you know, this is a load of bullshit, my parents didn’t have to do anything like this and sure as hell didn’t spend summers creating sight word bingo sheets and working on my fine motors skills by having me build sentences using clothes pins to pick up words and put them in order. When we played cards, it was to play crazy 8s for fun, not because I needed to add the value of two cards together, or double them, or figure out what number it would be if this number was in the tens column and this one in the ones column. And surely my kid will be able to get through school without me TUTORING him all goddamned summer and riding him every spare minute about numbers and reading and writing and practicing having a conversation and being “on task” for however many minutes he needs to be, congruent with his age, setting a timer and then encouraging him to exceed that goal of reading for 6 minutes or whatever. And here’s where people go, “And I turned out fine.”
Except I really didn’t. I then also thought, you know, I wasn’t exactly a great student, and I got worse and worse as I got older. I was pretty good in elementary, so-so in middle school and by high school, a complete fucking delinquent who barely squeaked by in certain required courses, who got sent to the office for snorting Vivarin in history class because I was so bored and completely “over” the whole school experience. I was probably also hungover, because that was an afternoon class and my morning drinking and smoking group met before first bell.
My parents HATED being involved with this shit. They didn’t have the knowledge or skill to deal with helping me with homework, and were so anti-establishment all they did was teach me to resent being given worthless assignments. Maybe if they had been able to approach it differently with me (well, let’s be realistic, my Mom would have been the one to do all the work), I’d have done better for a longer time, been able to go to a fantastic college on a scholarship (nothing against my alma mater, but it was chosen by default as it was a state school and had one of the latest application deadlines, as I hadn’t exactly been johnny on the spot in applying anywhere else), been able to make more money than I make now. Instead, after college I was on public assistance, was sick and didn’t have insurance and lived off my credit cards since I had no money to pay for gas or medicine, going so deep into debt that I would never, ever climb out.
So buckle up and quit whining. You wanted this kid more than anything you’ve ever wanted in your whole life, and this is the new part of the work you need to do for him, so just do it. Got it.
I still feel bad for him that I have to work this stuff in to everything he does. It feels like he’s being robbed of the only time in his life that you’re able to just BE and not have to be constantly working towards some fucking goal. I’ll do it, and I’ll hide my cynicism from him, but I can’t help but feel bad about it, that this is the new normal. Maybe it’s just MY new normal, and kids who were from great families with high-achiever parents who were college educated and had great jobs find this type of thing to be the old normal – this is just what you do, perhaps. I don’t know.
What was really helpful was seeing all the materials laid out on tables by subject after the teachers’ presentations. D is a lot like I was as a little kid, and I know where he excels and where he struggles academically. While he needs to be well-rounded and good (enough) at everything, I’m also going to push a little harder in the areas in which I know he’s going to go into the stratosphere; he can take that as far as he can as quickly as he can and I’m ready to guide him, or hook him up with someone else who can. And it’s pretty handy that his regular babysitter is also an elementary school teacher, so I plan to leave work for them when I hire her for the evening.
So, I have a list of apps I have to try to download, from the list the teachers provided. I’ll have to delete many of my own apps off the tablet to do so, as this is a really, really old tablet and it’s almost out of room. I have books I need to obtain. Sheets I need to copy and work we’re going to have to do pretty much every night. I had to take pictures of a lot of stuff that was on display and send to his Dad so he knows the type of things to work on with our son on his end, and he will.
And somehow, I will make this fun for him, we will find ways to enjoy ourselves while we tackle all this stuff. There will be fun. But there will also be learning. It’s the next part of my job as a parent, and I need to embrace it.