A little story from the family archives regarding the start of the school year getting delayed.
Three years ago, armed with the school assignment letter, the transportation letter, the back-to-school night class assignment, and a welcome letter, we arrived to drop off our firstborn on her first day of kindergarten only to find that she wasn’t on the list.
That’s right. A five-year-old who is stratospherically excited to finally start school and somehow between back-to-school night and actual back to school, the district computer system had eaten her record.
We stood there at the door of her classroom. She wasn’t on the list. More precisely, we could even see where she’d been scratched off. No record at the district level, and for the building staff, it was just another enrollment adjustment in the great back-to-school shuffle that needed to be updated.
Mind you, she was enrolled at an option school. Six months prior to this first day, I’d used my secret decoder ring to read Sanskrit and learn the rules about geozones and tiebreakers and quadrants. There was no way in H-E-double hockey sticks I was going to revert to my neighborhood assignment without a fight.
The frenzy of Pinterest-perfect, Hallmark-moment anticipation of sending my firstborn to kindergarten was shattered. A single tiny solitary little shred of cerebellum remaining guided me to not turn into a seething, caterwauling mess right then and there. I did not flip my lid on a teacher, the principal, or the office staff.
Honestly, it was a math decision. You only get a certain amount of freak-out in your parent bank and I wasn’t going to overdraw it on the first day of the next twelve years of my relationship with children’s school.
My daughter bravely held it together although we were both on the verge of tears, and I said vaguely reassuring things while taking cleansing breaths as our front office staff tried to get to the bottom of it, which was pretty hard from our building because it was an error with the central office enrollment records. There was no movement, and so we sat in the office while the rest of kindergarten started the school year.
That was one of the most bizarre moments of my life. From the time your child is born you have these emotional expectations about big milestones, and here we were, not hitting one because of a data error at the district level. This was NOT in the mom-manual.
After an hour, we turned home and ended up spending the day at the zoo, where my kiddo got the bat keeper to herself. I steeled myself for the next day, where I figured I’d have to gird my loins, paint my face blue, and cry Freedom! while heading to another part of town to take the district office by storm while missing work for another day.
On the first day of kindergarten, take two, we reported back to school.
And you know what? By that time, our awesome front office staff had called in and gotten our daughter’s record reinstated. Our principal had found her space in a different classroom. And new teacher welcomed her with open arms on no notice, which meant a disruption in settling in the rest of the class, I’m sure.
And that kindergarten year was wonderful. I’m pretty sure her teacher wears a cape, she was just awesome.
During that year, a quiet kid found her voice. A voracious reader had teachers who pressed chapter books into her hands from the secret stash in the back. A math fiend was well-served in a just right walk to math situation. She made friends who celebrated Diwali and Hanukkah and Ramadan. She designed a fair test for her science project to determine if crows preferred Cheetos from a Cheetos bag or from a brown paper bag. She loved working with clay and paint in art class.
One day I heard a loud “AAAWOOOOOO!” come from the other room.
“What’s going on?”
And she sang me the school song, the song of the Wolf Pack.
In part, the song goes: “We respect ourselves and others/We take care of our school/We solve all our problems because we (clap clap) PERSEVERE!”
It ends in a hearty howl. A much more joyous sound than the howl I felt on our unsuccessful not-first-day of school.
The frustration you may feel, the anxiety about administrative issues, the uncertainty during the strike? That’s normal. But it’s worlds different from the warm welcome, the competence, and the passion that you and your child will encounter when you walk into kindergarten. It’s worlds different from the advocacy and assistance we’ve gotten from the dedicated staff in our building.
So, new kindergarten parents: Welcome. Sometimes the bureaucracy of this giant district is frustrating. It can be unwieldy. You may have to get vocal on your student’s behalf at some point over the years. But I think that those of us who are here believe that the magical moments and the learning and transformative growth we’ve seen in our children are awe-inspiring. We’re more than clients. We’re participants in a democratic institution.