Kinder is Coming

Yesterday, my baby daughter was born. I remember, quite distinctly, when she opened her eyes, seeing the world for the very first time. She wasn’t much of a crier, didn’t scream a peep. She just looked around. Large irises that bordered on purple looked left and right, constantly blinking, absorbing and adjusting to this newfangled light thing.

The nurse took baby and me off to our first crash course in diapering, bottling, burping, swaddling. Mama was out of commission, so the first twenty-four hours or so was all daddy. Figure it out, daddy. There’s a reason they don’t call it a paternal instinct.

I remember it all so clearly. The water breaking at 1:00 in the morning after I had been scorekeeping at a minor-league baseball team until past 10:00 PM. The “to pitocin or not to pitocin” question, when neither Wife nor Husband (not yet Mama and Dada) didn’t know what the fuck a pitocin was. The “Hey, I’m going to go home and shower and get dressed because the doctors say you’re still hours away from delivery.” Followed by the “Holy shit, I was only gone an hour and baby’s already on its way? Is that what the fuck pitocin is?”

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Because it was just yesterday. Wasn’t it?

Because today, I registered my daughter for kindergarten.

So clearly, one of my internal timestamps is inaccurate.

I know I’m far from the first parent to lament the acceleration of time. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be posting the “she’s going off to college” post any day now. Will blogging still exist in 2032?

But the really weird thing about my soon-to-be-kindergartner is that, while it totally feels like she only showed up a few days ago, I also can’t really remember what things were like before. I’ve always been a parent, right? There was never a time when Wife and I could just plan a weekend trip to Reno without securing promissory notes from seventeen institutions, was there? I seem to remember, back in some amorphous prehistory, the existence of an hour of happiness at bars and restaurants, when alcohol and appetizers were cheap. And all it took was a text to Wife that I’d be home by 6:00 and should I pick up some take-out. Pretty sure if I tried that now, Daycare would call CPS.

Then again, there were thirty-eight years of my life when I didn’t even have a wife to text. Back then, I believe, happy hour might extend beyond an hour. But I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I only saw that in a movie.

Not that I’ve seen a non-animated movie or TV show in four and a half years.

Life has a funny way of doing that. What seems so normal one year is all but forgotten the next. Something that happened five years ago feels like it happened yesterday, and yet at the same time, it feels like it’s always been there.

Like cell phones. There was a time before cell phones, when I couldn’t text anyone anything. I’m positive of it. I actually remember a twenty-something Gen Xer saying he’d never get a cell phone. Why the hell would I want to be reachable at any time of the day? Why in the world would I want to let some future wife and daughter know that I was picking up dinner at a place that might or might not have a happy hour special?

So I know there was a time. I know for a fact that I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was in my late twenties. And yet…

When I think back on things that happened, I can’t fathom how it happened without a cellphone. New Year’s Eve, 1999, me and four friends were going to a huge radio station-sponsored party at the Convention Center downtown. I had to work the dinner shift at Old Spaghetti Factory, so the others went to the party before I got off work. When I got off work, I went home to change, and went to the convention center to meet my friends, who had already been drinking for a couple hours.

As I think back on that scenario, I can’t fathom how I found them amongst the milieu of thousands. Nowadays, I would send out a text as I walked into the convention center. “I’m @ entrance. Where r u?” And then I would stand there, within feet of where I sent the text, until one of them either texted me back or came to get me at the entrance.

Clearly, that didn’t happen in 1999. So what did happen? Did we set up a meeting place and time? Except we didn’t know what the layout would be. Nor when I would be arriving. Was one of them supposed to check a general area every fifteen minutes? Or did we all just figure we’d meet up in the drink lines? I’m not being funny when I say I can’t remember. It almost seems an impossible task to do without cell phones. But I know it was done.

The way we coordinate play-dates with my daughter and her friends seems something that couldn’t have happened before. Daughter wants to go to the neighborhood park, so Wife instant messages parents of neighborhood kids and when we get a positive response, we head to park and, lo and behold, neighbor child is there.

Something similar happened when I was growing up. I always seemed to be having friends over or going over to friends’ houses or going to the park with friends. And I’m not talking the birthday parties that are planned for months. I’m talking on a whim. Let’s go to the beach and meet up with friend X. One time in high school, I organized a softball game with 10-20 friends on a Saturday afternoon. How the hell did I do that? Did we coordinate it at school during the week or did we call everyone that morning? And how did we know if people were running late or just not showing up?

And don’t get me started on how teachers taught before Google. I would’ve flamed out in one year.

Hey, didn’t someone once write about becoming overly dependent on new technology and forgetting how to do things the old way? Hold on, let me google it…

The Unabomber? Are you sure? Okay, moving on.

Let’s see, where was I? I’ve always been a parent, even if it seems like she was just born yesterday. And then today, I…

Right! Kindergarten! Coming soon to a suburbia near you.

There are times I feel like she’s totally ready for kindergarten. She’s making wonderful observations and connections between disparate items.

“I have a surprise for you when we get home,” she said in the car the other day.

“Okay,” Mom responded, “but dinner will be ready as soon as we get there, so we can’t be running off to get engaged in something else.”

“Don’t worry,” Daughter responded. “It’ll be faster than a horse can run.”

An interesting concept. “Did you hear that phrase somewhere?”

“No. I just made it up.”

Which makes sense, because “faster than a horse can run,” while an acceptable metaphor, is not exactly a colloquialism that I’ve encountered before.But who knows what sort of mischievous language quips those hoodlums at daycare are making up. Criss-cross, applesauce? What the hell is that? Why don’t they just keep calling it Indian Sty… ooooh, I see what I did there.

The surprise, by the way, was an impromptu dance to “Pup, Pup, Boogie,” from Paw Patrol. Making the horse reference even farther fetched.

A few months ago, we pulled into the Starbucks drive-thru and she counted two cars in front of us. “Two cars plus us makes three,” came the commentary from my back seat. “If one more car comes behind us, it will be the same number of cars as how old I am.” Four is currently her favorite number, for obvious reasons.

“Good job, Miss,” I responded. Then on a lark, I asked, “If there were five cars in line, what would we have to do to get to four?”

She stared out the window for a moment, then returned her attention to me in the front seat and responded, “take one car away.”

Holy shit. I’m pretty sure I teach teenagers who couldn’t have maneuvered that complicated of a word problem.

But then there are other days when I wonder how in the world she’s going to sit still long enough to read or write or learn anything. The pouting didn’t stop after Christmas was over, and now we can’t threaten her with anybody “comin’ to town” for another eleven months. You can’t correct her for shit.

“Hey, honey, ‘the’ isn’t spelled t-e-h. Move the e to the end.”

And then she stands up, walks away from her artwork and curls up in the corner like a dog that’s just been smacked with the newspaper. She’s about to commit hara kiri after disgracing herself and the name of her family by spelling a word wrong at the age of four. Have fun with that level of bat-shit, kindergarten teacher.

In December, my daughter performed in “The Littlest Nutcracker,” which is way better than the actual “Nutcracker,” because each dance only lasts two minutes instead of the usual twenty. Each group had about five kids, each of whom had to do a routine of five or six steps. Plus the teacher was on stage doing the steps, so all they really had to do was copy the teacher. My daughter hit about seventy percent, because she’s the self-immolating perfectionist type. And the video clearly shows a shocked and mortified look on her face on every move she misses. Even if the other kids in her class were barely aware that they were on a stage and that there were set moves they had been working on for four months that they were supposed to be performing.

And these are the kids that are going into kindergarten with her. Not all into her class, of course, but at the same time. Again, how the hell do kindergarten teachers do it? A mixture of kids with no emotional, and only partial physical, control, some of which take their development way too seriously and others who are barely aware that there is a world around them.

And holy crap, there’s going to be, like twenty-five of them in the room. More power to you, kindergarten teacher. I’ve supervised my daughter playing with neighbors, and I max out at about three children. And all I’m in charge of is keeping them from impaling themselves, not teaching them anything about letters or numbers or, I don’t know, potty training. What are the kindergarten standards these days? Pretty sure it’s way more than it was forty years ago, when a successful day in the classroom meant a little bit more paste went onto the paper than into the stomach.

And of course, there was the kid that didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. He was still hearing about that in sixth grade. Kids remember the darndest things, don’t they?

Sure, the same could be said for the high schoolers I teach. But at least mine have bowel control. Sort of. Now that I think of it, I notice how many times I have the following conversation with one of my students:

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“Student X is there. You can go when he/she comes back.”

“But I really, really, really need to go. Like, I’m about to pee my pants.”

“Student X only left two minutes ago.”

Blink. Blink.

“You didn’t have to go at all two minutes ago, yet you’re going to pee yourself now?”

Blink. Blink.

“Invest in some diapers.”

But whether she’s overprepared or underprepared, socially or physically or educationally, the tallyman is coming to capture all of the little kids to indoctrinate all the free-thinking children into good little automatons for the state. Winter is coming. Or maybe it’s autumn. Actually, these days school starts in the middle of summer.

Maybe it’ll be a good thing. There are weekends where I really, really, really wish she had some fucking homework or the ability to read, so that she wasn’t constantly hanging on Mommy and Daddy. On the typical weekend day, she spends the day pushing buttons and pushing buttons and pushing buttons, giggling and giggling and giggling, while we say stop, stop, stop in an escalating matter until one of the three of us has had enough. Then she goes into the corner to prepare for self immolation. Then, ten minutes later, the process begins again.

“Scoop me.”

“I’m busy making you lunch.”

“Scoop me.”

“You weigh forty pounds.”

“Scoop me.”

“I have gout. I can barely hold up my own weight.”

“Scoop me.”

“Here’s your wakizashi sword.”

They assign term papers in kindergarten, right?

Actually, the school she’s going to doesn’t assign homework. I’m not sure how I feel about that. While I understand that many schools go too far, giving hours and hours of homework to kids still in the early developmental stages. However, I think it’s important to send a message early on that education does not stop when you leave the classroom.Some sort of carry-over or throughline from the school to the home probably goes a long way to encourage growth. You can read at home, too, kids.

And no, I’m not saying this just because I teach high schoolers who are completely incapable of turning in a single homework assignment.

“Why do I have a D? I did all the work.”

“Yes. You have a ninety percent in classwork, a sixty-eight percent in tests, and a zero percent in homework.”

“What can I do to improve my grade?”

Blink. Blink.

And let’s be honest. Most of those horror stories of fourth-graders paining their way through three hours of homework every night probably only had one hour of homework plus the two hours’ worth of classwork that they didn’t do in class because they were too busy talking to their friends or generally being as unaware that they are in a classroom for the purpose of education as the three-year olds in “The Littlest Nutcracker” were that they were on a stage for the purpose of dancing. And, another honesty check here, that three hours of homework was probably an hour of work interspersed with two hours of whining, complaining, texting friends, video games, and the other sorts of distractions that the child faced in the classroom, which is the reason he has “three hours” of make-up classwork in the first place.

And yeah, that second observation DOES come from my fifteen years of teaching students who will do anything in their power to avoid doing the task at hand.

So yeah, I’m a little bit worried about a no homework policy. I understand it in theory, but if the child hasn’t figured out that home is a vital part of the educational process by the time she’s in sixth grade, I worry that something is amiss. And when seventh grade hits, that’s going to be a learning curve from hell. Thirty minutes of tracing letters in second grade might be an easier gateway drug than quadratic equations.

Then again, the principal at Daughter’s future school was just shit-canned. And all indications are that it wasn’t an amicable split. Maybe the teachers were finally fed up with actually having to teach their students at school and not pawning their job off on beleaguered parents at home and demanded a change.

Did I just successfully malign both sides of the homework argument? Yes, I did. It takes a special talent to play the cantankerous asshole on both sides of an argument, huh? Good thing I don’t take on politics in this blog or else everyone would hate me.

So who knows. Maybe homework will be part of the curriculum by the time my baby gets there. Maybe the new principal will help stem the tide of desperate housewives in my neighborhood who are trying to get special dispensation to have their students go to a different school than the one we are mapped for. IN FUCKING KINDERGARTEN!

And no, it’s not because of the homework policy. It’s because our current school funnels into the above-average high school in the area, and not the uber-rich high school. Because your child should definitely have to go across town for the first nine years of his education in order to raise his chance of going to a four-year college from sixty-eight percent to seventy-one percent. I mean, I guess if you’re a stay-at-home, then you don’t have to worry about transportation. And I suppose if you’re a stay-at-home, you’ll be five martinis into the day by the time your child gets home, making it too difficult to engage him in his education or his future prospects.

But here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter where you go to school. If you apply yourself, and ideally are helped out a bit by a parent that’s more interested in your well-being than in keeping up with the joneses, you should be able to get into most colleges. I teach at an inner-city school, and we’ve sent students to ivy league schools regularly. Our valedictorian two years ago had three to choose from, and was a little bummed he didn’t get into Yale and had to settle for Columbia. If only his parents had gotten him into the right kindergarten.

So now the only question is where my daughter will fit into the grand scheme of things. Will she be the mopey perfectionist, the teacher’s pet with only-child syndrome, or will she follow the popular kids, the nascent cheerleaders and woo-girls, around in an attempt to Single White Female them? In her first four-and-a-half years, she’s shown aspects of every clique. But as we all know, the time for equivocation will shortly pass. School ain’t for numbers and letters. School’s for pigeon-holing and rounding out square pegs to fit into the grand round hole that is American society.

So put down the unicorn pictures and prepare to be whacked down with a mallet, kid. Now once again from the top. Twelve times twelve equals…?

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