by Risa Green
When I was in seventh grade, I had a drawer full of tee-shirts that advertised to the world all of the various horrors that I somehow managed to survive over the course of my brief, suburban, upper-middle class existence. For example, I Survived Sandy Run Middle School. I Survived Skull Mountain at Great Adventure. I Survived Camp Kweebec 1985. I also Survived Brett Rosenthal’s Bar Mitzvah. Sadly, I don’t own the tee-shirts anymore (not that they would fit over my mom gut even if I did), but I’d still like to add one to the list: I Survived My Son’s First Week of Kindergarten.
Unlike camp, middle school, a rollercoaster and a fancy party at the Four Seasons, my son’s first week of kindergarten actually felt like something I might not survive, at least from an emotional point of view. And it’s not like I didn’t try to prepare for it. I had the kid prepped within an inch of his life. He spent a week during the summer going to “kindergarten camp,” so he already knew his teachers. I had set up a zillion and one playdates with his new classmates in the weeks before school started, so he already knew most of the boys in his class. We picked out a brand new Yoda backpack and lunchbox, and I got him a first day of school bribe – I mean present - that he knew would be waiting at home for him at the end of the day. We talked about feeling nervous and how to make new friends, and I spent an hour on the phone with his teacher, letting her know all about his anxiety and how we’ve been dealing with it. And still… for all of my preparation, I was like a doctor fresh out of med school being asked to perform complex surgery on my very first day on the job. In other words, I was totally unprepared.
The first day started off okay. All of the parents were snapping pictures while the kids said the pledge of allegiance outside, and he whispered to me that he felt like they were the paparazzi (and he knows that word how?). Then he said goodbye to me and the teacher shut the door to the classroom, and there were, as was reported back to me throughout the day, no tears. When I pulled up in carpool at the end of the day, he was all smiles, his face covered with sticky purple popsicle juice. How was your day? I asked. Good! he answered. We got popsicles. Well that was easy, I thought, smugly patting myself on the back for being such an amazing mother that I was able to provide my anxious child with a perfectly smooth transition into kindergarten.
But then as we got closer to bedtime, the truth, or at least his anxiety, I’m still not exactly sure which, started to come out. He told me he didn’t want to go back the next day. Because he hated it, and wished he went to a different school. And because it’s not fun, and he has no friends, and everyone ignored him during recess. Which is, you know, exactly what every mom wants to hear. The next morning the tears started when I woke him up and continued as we walked into the classroom. So we talked to his teacher (a lovely and patient woman if ever there was one), and she gave him something to keep in his pocket that he could touch if he got nervous, which seemed to make him happy.
So I left him, trying not to cry (me, not him. Well, him too, but I was talking about me), and headed straight for the office of an administrator where I completely broke down and sobbed all over the place, and then had to go a tv interview for my book with waterproof mascara dripping all over my face. And then the whole thing happened again the next day. And the next day.
By Friday however, he seemed better. Some kids were playing with him at recess. The thing in his pocket was making him feel better. He played some fun games in PE. He carried around a copy of the schedule so he always knew what was happening next. On Friday morning, he didn’t cry. On Friday afternoon he jumped off the bus saying how much fun he had at school that day. And also how completely happy and excited he was that he didn’t have to go back until Monday. But still, I’ll take the little victories. And I’m going to get that tee-shirt made.