Kelly Van De Walle: So it begins
For better or worse, the first day of kindergarten is a milestone of sorts, a “do you remember when” moment for parents that will forever mark a place in time. Kind of like the moon landing or when lightning struck the clock tower in Hill Valley in Back to the Future.
We sat down with our 5-year-old to explain what was going to happen and I don’t think we had enough synchronized Chinese drummers to make it SEEM like the monumental moment we thought it would be.
As we explained what she was going to experience, she took it in stride like she had been secretly attending night classes for the last four years.
Her reply boiled down to: “Yeah, I got this.”
My wife and I looked at each other, concerned.
“No, you don’t understand,” we explained. “This is a pretty big deal. It’s Your First. Day. Of. Kindergarten.”
She looked back at us, blankly. I don’t know what we were expecting. Is a tight, terrified hug too much to ask? More than anything she was eager to see her friends. It was disconcerting to realize she has a more active social life than we do.
This went on for a week, my wife hinting at the grand changes to come, trying to elicit whatever response she was looking for.
“It’s going to be so exciting!” became a standard phrase in our house, much like “aloha” is in Hawaii.
“I’m going to the grocery story,” I would say.
“Have fun you two and kindergarten is going to be so exciting!” my wife would call out.
I would be obligated to agree, trying to add something meaningful.
“Yes! Oh, did we tell you there is going to…um…be pencil sharpeners? And globes. Oh so many globes you won’t believe it!”
Eventually as the day drew near, our daughter professed she actually didn’t want to go and, through tears, said she wanted to stay home.
“There we go,” I mused. “We got her to crack.”
The night before I glanced at at the mountain of supplies my wife and daughter purchased and began to wonder if they were starting a school for a Rwandan village.
“Are we going to expect her to walk into school with this on?” I asked. “Is she training to fight Ivan Drago?”
I began contemplating how many helium balloons will be needed to affix to her Pixar movie Up-style just so she could walk.
The next morning there was the scheduled photoshoot where parents are obligated by law to take no fewer than 900 photos of their child. I recall a quote from a story about a parent that failed to meet their quota.
“I took 847 but my phone ran out of memory,” said the beleaguered parent from Guantanamo Bay.
We were supposed to bring information on our daughter for the kindergarten teacher: likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. My wife forgot them and I never knew they existed so we were off to a good start. At the very least these trials and tribulations would make for a good college admissions essay.
“The bar is set pretty low here, honey,” I told her. “Pretty much if you don’t eat paste you’ll be doing great.”
“We can eat the paste?” my daughter replied. “What is paste?”
At the open house a few nights prior, my wife wished I’d stop telling all of the teachers we were so proud our daughter was the first one in our family to go to kindergarten.
“It’s not funny,” she says, wrongfully.
Here’s a note to my daughter (and all kindergarteners) and advice on this important milestone.
First of all, learn to read so you can understand this. Today marks a new chapter in your young life. I know it only feels different because we’re making a deal out of it. In 20 years you may never remember today, and that’s OK. But we will. Here’s what you need to know.
• Choose your friends wisely. There’s a good chance they stay your friends for the rest of your life. So, you know, no pressure. Try to find the ones that have parents with connections to celebrities and private suites during major sporting events. Never mind why.
• You can trade some of your lunch with other classmates, but stay away from the kid whose parents packed, like, kale. No amount of spinach chips or gluten-free soy-free peanut-free happiness-free granola clusters will be equal to your oatmeal cream pie. If you play your cards right, you may be able to trade your new booty for extra “yard time.” Wait, this is kindergarten not prison, right? Haha…I get that confused from my time in the slammer. Be sure you mention that to every boy you meet ever.
• At this point I will be able to help you with your homework. You will think I am a genius. Never lose this thought, for it is true. In the future if I ever tell you I can’t help you with something called “trigonometry” (which is not even a real thing) it’s because…um…it’s more important for you to arrive at the answers on your own.
• It’s always a good idea to find the bathrooms right away. You can hide out here and write your screenplay while the other kids are tricked into going to class.
Dropping her off on her second day, I watch her walking down the hall, the heels of her tiny feet (which are not so tiny now) brushing the bottom of her backpack. She doesn’t look back, but I can’t stop. Part of me wants to take her by the hand and lead her away; as if delaying kindergarten will prevent her from growing up. Unfortunately, the halls of her new school aren’t Neverland.
I smile to myself at the Peter Pan reference and realize, quite suddenly, that she’s my fairy dust. My happy thought, whenever I need one. Like today.
Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via hanging out on the monkey bars giving out life lessons in exchange for Little Debbie snack cakes.