‘Don’t get too excited, Charlie’ said Miss K., his pre-school teacher.
‘I’m gonna be too excited. My heart is gonna burst out of my cage.’ He replied. He was beaming. I realize this could be read in such a way as to think he might be expressing something of great concern. He wasn’t. It was a rebuke. Think of it more like, ‘I’m gonna be super excited and you can’t stop me. I mean seriously, I can’t stand still. I’m bouncing out of my shoes. You don’t get too excited!’
Today was kindergarten orientation.
‘Where are you going with your daddy, Charlie?’ The daycare director asked, with a wink, prompting the response she loved and she knew I would as well.
‘Kindergarten rotation!’ Orientation, rotation… Close enough and I ain’t changing it.
I have mixed feelings about my boys entering the school system. On the one hand I hate it and on the other I dread it. So, you know, mixed.
My feelings come from a place, they aren’t just anti-everything, white male suspiciagression. I actually failed at school. A lot. It’s okay. I’ve overcome my shortcomings and had enough bursts of effort to actually attain a bachelors after about 10 years of mostly not trying. While I don’t have my first dream job, pro basketball player, I have a version of a dream job and I’m working on a second, writer.
When we got home to meet mom and head out to the school he started to wonder what was going to happen. Like, what actually was going to happen. I immediately tried to hide my fears and anxiety by over talking. It’s not something I have to work at, in fact I come to this tactic quite naturally!
‘You’re gonna love it. You’re gonna go into a classroom with all the other kids and play. I guess you’ll play. Honey, they’re gonna play in the room right? We’re gonna go in a different room and meet all the other mommy’s and daddy’s and the nurse.’ I said, anything but nonchalantly.
It came out all wrong because I didn’t believe it. I mean I believed the details but the enthusiasm wasn’t there. I was starting to think back to my first few months of kindergarten. All the tears and nonstop screaming I did. I mean it was a lot. I generated a river of tears that was remarkable for it’s persistence. I was my own little Lake Tear of the Clouds building the mighty Hudson of toddler sorrow that I rode to the principals office everyday for months. She tried everything a nun has in the quiver to get me to calm down but it didn’t work. Eventually she just started giving me lollipops to shut me up for a bit while she continued to work but it was of no use. I’d just blurt out again when I was sent back. Some days must have been worse than others as I was occasionally sent home with my mother who’d cuddle me and play with me the rest of the day, when she wasn’t tending to my little sister.
In retrospect having grown up and lived as an adult for some time now I actually think I was consistent, always tears all day everyday and some days the adults just had had enough or were having a bad day and decided today was a day I needed to go away. I’d have never been allowed to go these days. I wouldn’t be five until the week of Thanksgiving. Not that this understanding of why I’d handled it the way I did would ever make the older kids stop singing, or chanting actually, ‘kindergarten drop out’ as they skipped around me that summer.
Charlie was so excited to even be at the school. He’d been hearing us tell him, for years now, how one day he’d be one of the big kids who got to the ‘big kids’ school. Never mind that when he gets to the ‘big kids’ school it will be a shock to him to find a (half) school day lasts two and a half hours as opposed to the 9 hour ‘school’ day he’s had to this point at his daycare, this is the big time. When we got there, in the mass of moms and more dad’s than I’d assumed would be there, and overexcited 5ish year olds, it became a tad scary for Charlie and he clutched our hands.
‘I bet you can’t walk all the way around on the wood and not fall off.’ I said, pointing to the boarded border of the tree around which a group of kids were busy playing/slash burning off some of their excitement to be here, kindergarten, the destination so many were surely looking forward to in the same way that Charlie was, hearts bursting. He of course could and was excited to do so and even brushed up against some kids. Who knows, one of these kids might be the best friend he has through high school. Maybe his first love is in this crowd. Sworn enemies. Everyone needs a good, harmless nemesis and I had already spotted several that would fit the bill.
He was immediately back between us holding both hands asking if we could stay with him. Of course we can, I was thinking. And we will. We won’t throw you to the wolves, your our guy and we’ll never let these people kill your enthusiasm, destroy your curiosity and make you obsessed with GPA’s and other meaningless signs of conformity that surely spell your demise. Don’t you fret buddy.
We lined up, as is one’s natural inclination in the halls of a building designed in the classical American architectural tradition of grade schools, as a family. Hand in hand. With other families standing in the same familial posture both in front of and behind us. As I stood in the hall, a 42 year old man who could hardly be described as anything other than confident and self possessed in any normal setting, my heart raced.
The line moved swiftly and the parents in front of us were very cool. Far cooler than I in my standard issue button down and Khaki’s. It was a workday after all. I made the dad chuckle with one well placed punchline. Something about a prison that worked on the honor system. I don’t really remember what the setup was. In hindsight it had to be that I, holding Charlie’s hand and silent and ready to start sweating, was staying perfectly silent so as not to draw any attention, particularly the kind that felt palpable in the air of the school hallway, mocking attention, and had been listening intently to this obviously comfortable dad being cool and hoping I could say something that made him laugh. Thank god there was an opening and I had something.
Charlie meanwhile shouted, ‘It’s a classroom!’ That exclamation mark is not misplaced. He shouted it as if he’d found the final golden ticket. Immediately I grasped his hand a little tighter. God forbid we make a scene. I’m as disgusted as anyone else is at this behavior, stifling his natural and understandable excitement. Although I do believe I may have failed in my attempt to prepare him for this day if the thought of there being a classroom in a school was such a surprise. I judge myself horribly and constantly for my temperamental disdain for expressions of exuberance and excitement. Honestly I do. I’m like that scene in the birdcage where Robin Williams while choreographing implores his dancer to be flamboyant and expressive.. Fosse, Fosse, Fosse… Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham.. but on the inside. On the outside, stay still. I’d have NAILED that part. And I’m not even a dancer!
Before too long we were at the front of the line, he had wiggled free and was gathering with all the other little boys around the box of Lego’s, ready to invent and build and make friends and laugh and play. Just like we wanted him to. I was faking it and thankfully he was making it.