After my daughter was born just over five years ago, when my two nights in the hospital were over and it was time for me to check out, I couldn’t believe that the nurses would trust me enough to let me leave with her. What did I know about taking care of a child? I hadn’t studied enough. Panic!
As I sent my daughter off to kindergarten last week, I felt almost the opposite. She’s mine now, indoctrinated into our family’s particular way of doing things, a part of our culture, one of us. How can I trust her to someone else?
For five years I’ve known almost exactly where she was at any point in the day. Even though I work and she’s been in day care since she was just 2 months old, there was always someone I could call or stop in on to check on her. If she had been sad in the morning or looked just a little glassy-eyed, when she was switching from a bottle to solid food, taking her first tentative steps or learning to use the potty, when she was having a hard time saying goodbye and needed a little extra love at day care, I could reach out during the workday and get a Jade update.
Not so now that she’s in real school for the whole day and parents aren’t supposed to just drop in to say hi to the women at the front desk or call to see if she’s as happy as she thought she’d be wearing the short-sleeve shirt she insisted would be warm enough, or if she’s adjusting okay to the full-day schedule or the after-school program. I’m missing her in ways I didn’t expect.
This is the beginning of the rest of our lives and I’m not sure I’m ready. But I know that she is. I’m the one who has the hard time with transitions, not her.
My husband and I call Jade “the mayor,” because she’s such a social little character. She remembers people she’s met all over the place and is quick to call out a hello to them from across the room or across the parking lot, even if they’re referred to only as Joshua’s mom or “karate teacher.” There is almost nowhere we can go in East Hampton without running into someone Jade knows.
Her outgoing and exuberant friendliness is her great gift. She loves her new teachers and has reveled in her growing independence. “I’m going to talk to my teacher about having a bake sale,” she told me last week, with a voice that sounded so much like my own I had to check my phone for an echo.
School in these early years is as much a test of the parent as the student. Did we do okay teaching kindness and consideration and good manners? Are we able to get her out the door on time with her hair and teeth brushed, her face washed, clean clothes, and the right shoes for the day ahead? Did we read the notes that came home from school? Did we remember to have her do her “homework”? Did we get her the right school supplies? Have we been good parents?
We had our first homework assignments of the year over the weekend. I say “we” because it was my job to make sure Jade and Jasper were reminded of them and given ample time to complete them. My husband and I treated them the way we both probably treated our own homework. We got excited about them, got involved in a bunch of other stuff, then realized the weekend was almost over and we hadn’t yet made the time to actually do the assigned projects.
So that’s why the beach was so empty on Sunday. All the other families were doing their homework. Lesson learned.
Every single morning is a test, often a pop quiz, and we’ve been studying for the past five years now. Or have we? What if we studied the wrong subject? You know those dreams where you suddenly find yourself back in school right before a final exam? Mine sometimes go like this: Pick a subject, say, physics. It’s the end of the school year, the test is coming up and I realize that not only have I not studied for the test, but I stopped going to class at some point, just plain forgot to go for months and months. Never read the books, never did the homework, and now it’s test day, I know nothing, and I can’t even find my glasses.
In this school my children are my teachers, also my students, and the only grade I really care about is the one they give me. I hope I pass.
Carissa Katz is The Star’s managing editor.