I dropped off my big boy at school today.  He has been in pre-school since he was two (two mornings a week, then three, then last year four afternoons).  I mean pre-school, not daycare.  University settings, educated staff, a curriculum, rich environment, that sort of thing.  This sweet, courageous, verbal little boy had his kindergarten doctor’s visit in late May, complete with eye and hearing exams and four monster shots.  The following day he had his introduction (along with all the other neighborhood rising kindergarteners) to the school he will be attending this fall.  But today was the start of “science camp”, a week long enrichment program that runs all day.  There are seven other kids in his class, all older than he is.  This boy who has always been big for his age, looked so small.  I made sure his teacher knew he was only a kindergartener, despite his size.  My child heard me and said “Yes, I am little that way.”  His teacher smiled and laughed.  She seemed to be a warm and fun, experienced woman.  I hope she is good to the kids.

When we arrived on time this morning, we entered the wrong door and were ushered into a separate cafeteria.  There were lots of kids in it, most of them minority children and several with obvious challenges.  I was most disturbed by the three little boys wearing large gold chains, flashing various hand signals to each other and laughing.  They were not deaf or mute, and I did not want to think what the signs meant.  A woman approached us and asked who we were, as it seemed obvious that we stuck out.  One, because my boy was the only one carrying a lunch box- a new, bright yellow cool-box.  Two, because he didn’t look like or dress like the other kids in the room (he in his green striped tee and khaki cargo shorts).  I asked if this was where the enrichment programs were meeting.  She laughed with what seemed like relief and hurriedly ushered us out the door, pointing to another building where other children and parents were streaming in.  We had mistakenly entered, I found out, the “summer school” for kids who needed “more preparation for this fall”. 

We found our way to the gymnasium and were greeted by another nice woman who pointed to the area where the K-2nd Science children were sitting.  My boy got his name tag and looked anxiously around.  He was not used to such a large crowd, and so many older children.  Teachers milled about collecting paperwork, parents were saying good byes and checking pick up times.  I looked down at my beautiful child, and told him it would be OK.  He asked if I was coming as his group stood up and formed a small line behind his teacher.  I told him no, that I could not come, but that I would pick him up later.  I watched him walk down the hall, as he turned to look back at me.  I waved.  Then they all filed into a classroom and were gone.

I walked out into the sunshine, feeling very alone.  I worried that he would be tired, that an all day program was new to him.  I worried that he would feel intimidated by the older kids.  I worried that he would feel dumb because he did not have the skills the older kids did.  I hoped I packed his lunch box correctly.  At my core, I felt like I had abandoned him.  It felt very similar to the day we left the hospital after he was born.  As we stood on the threshold of the doors, watching Husband drive up, I cried and whispered to him that this was the big world.  My little guy was once again joining the big world, in a new way.  I don’t believe for a minute that we have prepared him enough and I feel guilty.  I wonder if I will feel this way the rest of my life.

We visited private schools this spring, and ran the numbers.  We realized we could not afford private school and heck, no school was going to do the job we needed it to, and it would probably be better to channel the money into supplemental experiences and throw our luck in with the neighborhood, over-crowded, under-funded public school.  So we bite our nails, beat our chests at night after the kids are asleep, and try to be better parents.  My children truly are such amazing gifts to me.  They are kind, loving, funny boys and I live in fear of all the bad things that could happen to them, knowing how little control I have over life.  As a former educator, I also know that so much of learning is about the application of skills, determination, self-discipline, and opportunity.  Talent has little or nothing to do with learning.  After spending too many years mired in creativity and learning research, I came to the conclusion that R. Sternberg had it mostly right when he writes about practical intelligence, the social and cultural dimensions of achievement, and the role of self-discipline.  As a parent, the best I can do is help my kids learn everyday in small ways how to be a learner, and hope they cross apply those skills.

When I sent my little boy off today, I hoped he would have some coping and learning skills on board.  I also hoped he had a good teacher, and friendly co-students.

It’s a long road ahead, this school thing.  I don’t agree with all the rules, organization, or limits of the system here- and I’ll have to be creative in helping my kids find their way as they go.  Today was a new stage for all of us, and my little boy is one more step on his way to independence.  I miss him already.