As I wiped away tears after watching my firstborn walk into her new school for her first day of kindergarten, I asked myself: why is kindergarten such a big deal? We’ve already experienced the “first day of school” three times before with preschool. What is so momentous about this year?
It’s more than just starting school, I realized. It’s a departure from a safety net. It’s the beginning of a new chapter. A new way of life.
For many children — and their parents — kindergarten signals the start of a new routine. No more half-days of preschool. No more Memorial Day to Labor Day school calendar. No more post-naptime playdates or 2:00 swim class. Kindergarten runs on the same 7-hour timetable as grade school and high school. That means that this new regiment of early rising and afternoon pick-up will be in place until the child is at least 18-years old. That’s 13 years!
Homework, carpool, projects, standardized testing, PTO meetings, and back-to-school night… the makings of a school-centric, instead of home-centric, chapter. Packed lunches and permission slips, playground tumbles and social tussles, school nurse visits and principal’s office scoldings. It is a time of routine and hurdles. It’s a time of growth.
For stay-at-home parents, the transition is particularly poignant. Accustomed to initiating and witnessing most playdates and social activities themselves, stay-at-home parents will now only hear snippets of their children’s days. Piecing together the verbal puzzle to construct a vision of the child’s experience. No longer sharing in their child’s life first-hand. They are a distant bystander awaiting filtered highlights from a not-always-willing narrator.
Someone else will bandage the boo-boo and open the juice pouch. Someone else will offer solice when egos are bruised and knees are scraped. Someone else will teach and shepherd, protect and comfort our children. We are no longer THE caretaker.
The transition signals as much a change for parents as it does the children. It is a step towards independence. A step into the big world.
May all the fledgling kindergarteners find comfort, joy, and inspiration in their new school year. May all the parents feel secure in the care provided by the schools. May the year ahead be one of positive growth and development. May we all stand together to celebrate and comfort one another through this transition.