Kinder-F’ing-Garten

Ten months before preschool graduation, Quinn informed us he was never going to kindergarten.

“Why the hell not,” I asked. Oh shit, I was thinking. He’s starting to believe all that, “Kid’s a goddamn genius” nonsense the grandparents spew. Sorry, kid. You don’t get to pass Go if your drawings of people still have arms coming out of their chins and you refuse to acknowledge 12 is a number.

“I don’t want to go,” he whined. “I never want to go!” 

“But why? I pressed. “Kindergarten is fun! It’s just like preschool except you will learn even more stuff. And you’ll make more friends. And you get to take classes like art and music and…” Actually I don’t really know what happens in Seattle public schools. Do they still fund art? 

“I don’t want to learn!”

“Great. In 14 years you can go to the liberal arts college of your dreams, but until then, you will go to kindergarten. One day.”

That did not appease him. One day could be in 6 years or 8 minutes. Kindergarten was coming for him. Kindergarten had his number. And that number was not 12.

The anxiousness wasn’t surprising. He’s an emotional and occasionally fearful kid. Sometimes I use that to my advantage. 

Never go near the monkey bars! You will break your arm!

Never eat a grape unless it’s cut up into 1,592 small pieces!

Never walk across a parking lot unless you are holding Mommy’s hand!

Sometimes he wakes up from a sound sleep to ask if there are any clowns in the house. 

“The hell? Of course not!”

“What about werewolves?”

“Nope.”

“Hackers?

“Umm…?”

Then there was the great weather obsession of 2016 and with it a fear of floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

“We live on a hill. Flood free! Don’t worry!”

“What about volcanoes?”

Hmm… too soon to tell him about the Ring of Fire?

But the world’s most active volcanoes had nothing on kindergarten. For the next 10 months, the child reminded us he was not going. He would never go. He wanted to stay with his preschool friends forever.

“But all your friends are going to kindergarten too,” I said. 

“My kindergarten?”

“Well, no. There are lots of kindergartens. But you’ll have a whole bunch of new friends to hang out with.”

UNAPPEASED.

Then said friends were starting to talk about it. They were excited.

UNAPPEASED.

He graduated from preschool with great fanfare and promises of big boy adventures ahead.

UNAPPEASED.

His best friend in the whole wide world was going to his very same school!

SORT OF APPEASED.

We tried a variety of tactics to get this kid excited for school. Bribes, emotional warfare, pep talks from cool, older kids. Finally, I just accepted the nerves and let him own it. I told him it was totally normal and that every kid going to kindergarten was nervous too.

“They are?”

“Of course! None of them have been there before. It’s new to all of you!”

I reminded him he’s been in daycare since he was three months old. He’s done the whole new class, new friends, new teacher deal multiple times. 

“Some of these kids have never been in a school!” I said with wide-eyed disbelief. “They don’t know what a cubby is. They’ve never pooped in front of eighteen other kids. They never almost had lice!”

“Never?” 

And here is where you’ll keep your security, sense of well-being, and memories of that sweet, sweet preschool life.

“Nope. So you might actually have to help the teacher and be a leader for those kids. When you see someone upset or crying, maybe you could help make them feel better?”

“I could say, ‘Hi, I’m Quinn. Want to have lunch me and my friend Maddex?’”

“That’s perfect!”

Damn, if that wasn’t some A+ Pinterest parenting shit right there. Nailed it! Not only was my kid going to kindergarten, he was going to be the prince of elementary school.

But alas, the kinder ambivalence continued. It occured to me that perhaps he didn’t actually know what kindergarten was. Sure, he hears people talking about it, but in what context?

Maybe he thought kindergarten was where the bad kids go?

Did you hear Aiden went to kindergarten? That’s why we don’t see him around anymore.

Damn…Never should have pushed Molly off that slide, man.

Maybe he thought kindergarten was a potato farm or a Himalayan mine where he’d be forced to get up early and pluck grains of salt from the Earth and shape them into mass market whale tail lamps and earrings. But nope. He got it. 

“It’s like preschool, but not fun and LAME!”

Okay, then.

We pulled out even more tactics. Books, talking to friends who were couldn’t wait to start kindergarten, playdates with the incoming class, open house to meet the teacher and see his class, A PRIVATE TOUR of the school set up by the outgoing PTA president and her two kids (a THIRD GRADER and a FIFTH GRADER!) who created a scavenger hunt taking him all around the school and granting him Pokemon stickers for when he found such amazing treasures as the library and music room and his classroom!

We tried excitement. Yay, Kindergarten!

And apathy. Whatever, Kindergarten.

I took him back-to-school shopping and replaced his perfectly good backpack, lunchbag, and water bottle with even better ones. I even let him pick out his own clothes and shoes.

He choose these:

No, YOU tell him these are not playground appropriate.

He was drawn to those shoes for inexplicable reasons, but if a pair of Spanx and some Air Wick scented oil intrigued him, I’d have packed his new Justice League backpack full of it.

The grandparents sent him cases (not hyperbole) of lunchbox sized Goldfish crackers, Fig Newtons, Animal Crackers, and Ritz Bitz crackers. Then days later more cases arrived filled with Nutter Butters, Oreos, Sour Patch Kids, and Chips A’hoys.

Still no dice and we all gained 7 pounds in 3 days. The night before school started, bedtime took an hour and a half. The kid did not want to go to sleep knowing when he woke up, that black-hooded academic ninja would be waiting for him. Soon his anxiety rubbed off on Bart and I. We threw Lunchables at each other and argued over Teddy Grahams or rainbow Goldfish for his lunch snack. I thought he should wear short sleeves and a sweatshirt. Bart thought long sleeves and camo shorts would be more appropriate. Bart thought his water bottle was too heavy. I thought his backpack was too big. Maybe Quinn was right and this whole kindergarten thing was just plain stupid. Could he go to summer camp all year long?

We got up at the crack of dawn the next morning– a full hour earlier than any of us were used to because we had a schedule now. Kindergarten, that bitch, was messing with us all. It was still dark outside. Bart cried on his way to the shower. I stood in the hallway confused. Where did we keep the damn waffles in this place!?

“Good morning!” I sing-songed, upon waking up that sweet, peaceful child. Even I could tell I was faking it. 

“Do I have to go to kindergarten today?” 

“You get to go to kindergarten today!”

He rolled over and shut his eyes. “NO!”

“Let’s get up and watch Peppa Pig! And eat waffles and cereal bars! TODAY IS JUST LIKE ANY OTHER DAY!”

But it was no use. Today was different. We both agreed if Peppa didn’t want to go to kindergarten no one would make that damn, bossy pig go. We were jealous of Peppa.

I felt bad. Guilty, like I was doing him a disservice sending him to kindergarten. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. I’m pretty sure his preschool teachers would eventually notice the kid three times bigger than his classmates who always showed up in sunglasses and a fedora. I couldn’t homeschool this kid. He’d learn vocabulary from the Real Housewives (“Jackie told Gizelle to brang it. Teresa called Danielle a prostitution hoo-wah. Vicky and Tamra will whoope it up majorly!) and math from The Price is Right (“No, honey, stackable washer and dryers do not cost one dollar. That man was being a douchebag.”)

His best friend arrived to walk with us and was full of spunk and enthusiasm and apparently whatever Kool-Aid kindergarten was shilling.

“I’m excited to learn lots of things and meet new friends,” he told me when I asked him what he was looking forward to.

“Maybe you could share some of that with Quinn?”

He looked at his best friend hiding behind a dining room chair. “Umm, no.”

This photo was taken seconds before shit went sideways.

We live only 9 houses from the school and I never knew there were so many kids who either lived on our street or walked past our house to get to school because I was still asleep when the bell rang. But it was a regular old-timey parade of waving neighbors on front porches, oohing and ahhing over smartly dressed kids holding chalkboard signs commemorating first days and little Emily’s desire to be a panda when she grew up. 

We joined the flow, caught between every other kid’s joyful oblivion and Quinn’s desire to lay down in traffic. As we made our approach, the school loomed before us. We’ve played on this playground for years. How have we never noticed this giant, menacing stone edifice? Quinn’s grip tightened on my arm. 

“I don’t want to go,” he said. “Please, Mommy.”

“It’s going to be great,” I said. 

We were told to look for his teacher who would be holding a sign with her name on it. She was lovely. Kind, warm, and thankfully blonde because my boy born of 100% brunette ancestors has a thing for the fair haired. We recognized several kids from the aforementioned playdates including the twin girls who lived 2 houses up the street and the little boy from across the street– all of whom were in his class. I pointed them out to Quinn like I was a guide on a whale watching tour.

“LOOK QUINN! IT’S TYLER! OMG HE’S BREECHING!”

And then the tears came.

Okay, I fully expected my kid to cry. Honestly I was surprised it took that long. I expected lots of kids to cry. Like maybe all of them. But god dammit all to hell if my kid wasn’t the only one crying. Like literally the only one. Not even a crying mom in the bunch!

Bart swooped in, gathered Quinn into his arms and lifted him up. I’m not talking in a spiritual or Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warner sort of way. I mean he picked his crying child up off the blacktop and nestled him into the ripped seams of that goddamn 19 year-old Kenneth Cole bomber jacket he refused to part with. But I digress. It’s not about the jacket. This time.

They say you turn into your mother one day and that day was the first day of kinder-f’ing-garten. Right there in the shadow of my child’s brick and mortar nemesis I became the mother practiced in the art of Hideo Ochi, tough love, and the ability to wipe that goddamn smile off your face with the slightest lowering of an eyelid. The ol’ pinch to the tricep worked too.

“Put him down,” I sneered through clenched teeth. Damn! I didn’t even know I could do that!

“What?” Bart said, marveling at my ventriloquism. 

“PUT. HIM. DOWN,” I repeated through a fake smile.

“He’s crying.”

“I know that. Which is why you need to put him down.”

“He’s upset!” Bart answered, clearly startled by my transformation.

“This is kindergarten, motherf*cker. There’s no coddling in kindergarten! Drop him!”

“But–”

“LET GO OF MY CHILD!”

Okay, so maybe we should have talked strategy before Bart and I went all Kramer vs. Kramer in front of the PTA. For at least 13 seconds every adult on the playground thought Bart was a predator and was ready to pounce. But I stood by my convictions and left Bart reeling on a four square court.

Bart checked on Quinn’s best friend while Quinn’s teacher checked on us.

“I need help holding my sign,” she said, bending over so her luscious blonde locks fell inches from Quinn’s sad, wet face. “Can you hold this for me?”

The kid hated kindergarten, but damn if he didn’t love a job. My baby was like a border collie and for a few blissful seconds, he forgot how much kindergarten sucked and double-fisted that yard stick handle. 

Then the bell rang and a surge of Ooooooooohs erupted from the parents like they had just witnessed a last second overtime goal. To Quinn it sounded like the kick off to the Hunger Games. He really lost it. Still clutching the sign, his little body was shaking with sobs. Big tears careened down his face. I planted my feet firmly on the blacktop to stop either Quinn from making a break for it or Bart who would surely impale himself on a yard stick in his attempt to protect our child from the evils of public school. 

“WE GOT THIS!” I yelled to Bart, who knew we very much did not have anything. “Everything is GREAT!” I saw his leg twitch and immediately shot my hand up like a crossing guard to oncoming traffic. “Take one step and I will divorce you!”

“You’re so brave!” I yelled to Quinn. “Everything is so great!”

All eyes were on my child whom I now realized was standing in front of his whole goddamn class waving a 6 foot sign and crying instead of tucked discreetly in line.

The teacher took Quinn’s hand and led him away. The other 19 kids eagerly followed, their giant backpacks smashing into the faces of the person behind them like superhero branded air bags. Quinn looked like a juvenile prisoner headed off to maximum security. He was resigned, head down, tears making puddles on top of his new loafers. Goodby my brave, bear. You’re gonna crush snack time and free choice.

And just as he was about to disappear into the double doors of the abyss, he turned around, giving me one last chance to fix this dreadful, horrific mistake. Maybe he saw a crack in my foundation. Maybe he had beaten me down. Maybe he saw his father being comforted by a group of fifth graders. Whatever it was, he saw his last chance and made a break for it, still holding the sign, and headed right for me– his mother, protector, sanctuary, source of all that’s comforting– who was yelling, “Get away from me, child!” as she braced for impact.

He charged with the strength of 19 tiny gladiators in Old Navy sweatshirts backing him up.

“NO!” I shouted, taking him by the elbow and leading him and the pack back to school. “This way!”

But my child was determined. He managed to get a hold of me and still keep a grip on that sign. (I told you– border collie.) 

“NO!” he yelled, grabbing my sleeve.

“YES!” I yelled, swatting his hand away after taking a yard stick to the forehead.

He’d find another hold, I’d parry left. He grabbed the strap of my purse, I abandoned it. It was all cling, slap, grab, swat, sobs, promises that things would be fine. His face was so wet. There were so many tears, so many calls for MOMMY. You got the wrong guy! 

We were still tangled in that bizarre dance as I propelled him closer to the entrance. The swell of 19 eager children pushed me forward.

Distracted by a classmate’s flip sequin shirt, he loosened his grip. In a beautifully choreographed maneuver, I managed to spin him around and give him a little shove through the doors.

“GET. IN. THERE!”

“MOMMY, NO! PLEASE!”

The momentum of 19 children who were promised graham crackers and Pete the Cat was getting stronger. We were out of time. The second bell rang. Oh no, was that shadowy figure the principal? We will be making a huge donation to the PTA after this.

“Why, Mommy, why???”

“IT’S THE LAW!” I hissed, giving him one last shove.

I call this, “Detached primary caregiver throwing child to wolves.”

And then he and the sign were gone, disappeared in the crush of bobbing headbands and hoodies. It was over. I was Han Solo knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc Pit. I was victorious.

I turned around to find a few straggler parents and a mortified Bart, horrified by his son’s trauma and his wife’s grotesque lack of empathy. 

“It isthe law,” I repeated. “Isn’t it?”

Seven tense hours later the head of his after-school program texted to say the kids arrived safely via school bus and they all had a fantastic day. 

“Even Quinn?” I asked.

“Even Quinn,” she said.

Sure enough when we picked him up he regaled us with stories of his triumphant day. He was line leader, had music class, got to pick out a book from the teacher’s extensive library. Even made two new friends. Kindergarten was awesome! I looked at Bart, a bit smugly. Not today, kindergarten. This too shall pass quickly.

I couldn’t wait to wake him up the next morning. His camo shorts and long-sleeve shirt were already laid out.

He rolled over and with sleepy eyes asked, “Do I have to go to kindergarten today?”

“Yes, of course!”

“NO! I’m never going back! I hate kindergarten!”

Okay what the actual Groundhog’s Day was happening here? Did I have to write “Recess Rules” and “Line Leader for Life” in sharpie on his forearms?

“No,” I said. “You like kindergarten. Remember how much fun you had yesterday?”

“NO! I did NOT have fun! I AM NEVER GOING BACK!”

I returned to our room, turned on the TV, watched an episode of Peppa Pig by myself, and waited for Bart to get out of the shower.

“Where’s Quinn?” he asked.

“He’s all yours,” I said. “I’m going to jail.”