Kindergarten should come with a warning. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t candy-coat it. Just come right out and tell us that kindergarten is hell, for parents anyway.
It began like any other school day. My oldest son, Jimmy, was eight years old and beginning third grade, a veteran of first days of school. As I watched him pack his book bag, I remembered that I cried when he began kindergarten. I shoved a pack of travel tissues into my pocket.
His brother, Tony, was five years old and beginning kindergarten. He sat on the couch and I tried to show him how to tie his shoes for the umpteenth time. He fired questions at me.
“Mama, will we be able to play at their park?” he asked.
“When it is at school it is called a playground, and yes, you will probably play there today.”
“Will we be able to cut things today?”
“I don’t know if you will be able to use scissors today or not. You’ll have to see.”
“Oh, I hope so. I love scissors,” he said as he hopped down and ran around in circles.
Quick as a wink we dropped off Jimmy at the elementary building. He kissed me goodbye and wished his brother well, and I was struck by how he had changed in three years. I saw his five-year-old self skipping off to his classroom. When did he get so big?
I drove Tony over to the kindergarten building as he hummed Darth Vader’s theme in the back seat.
Kindergarten Village, as his school was named, had very tight security and required each visitor to sign in and get a pass. I joined the line of waiting visitors as Tony began to run in circles again.
“Hey, we’re inside now. We don’t run,” I said.
“Mama,” he said as he grabbed both my hands and swung back and forth, “what room will I be in?”
“You’re in the Pink Room just like Jimmy was.”
“Will you throw up if something touches your uvula?”
“Sometimes,” I said as I wondered where he had heard that word.
“What neutralizes an acid?”
I was never so happy to receive a dinky piece of plastic in my life. I clipped my tag on, and we took off for the Pink Room.
He ran off to inspect the room while I hung his bag in the hall. Ten seconds later he was back, grinning. He ran up and hugged me.
“Thank you, Mama,” he whispered. “I love the Pink Room.”
“I’m glad,” I said. An invisible hand in the pit of my stomach reached up and squeezed my heart. He went back and I turned, zombie-like, to leave. Even if only in my imagination, the other parents were happy to leave their cherubs. I felt the meltdown growing inside me. Tears threatened my eyes as I tried to choke them back, to exit the building with some shred of dignity. I was in the home stretch when the principal called after me.
“Ma’am! Ma’am! You have to fill out the medical forms before you leave!”
I felt the dignity leave as the flood gates opened. Someone, I couldn’t see through the blur of tears, shoved tissues into my hand. With no composure whatsoever, I filled out the forms and left thinking, I hope they can read those, knowing I didn’t care. The hell that is kindergarten just swallowed my little urchin. The heartache was more than I could bear.
After a fifteen minute long cry, I drove home.
That wasn’t that bad, I tried to convince myself as I walked up the driveway.
The silence inside was deafening.
There were no toys scattered over the living room floor.
No one asked for their mama.
No one wondered about uvulas.
It felt like someone had died. The flood gate opened again. My husband, Jim, who works nights and was sleeping at the time, ran out of the bedroom.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, hair disheveled, dried drool clinging to his cheek.
“Our babies are gone!” I wailed. My breath hitched and I snorted.
“Miranda,” he said as he knelt in front of me and placed both hands on my cheeks. “They are at school. They will be back.”
“I know,” I wailed again, a la Mary Tyler Moore.
He hugged me. “It will be okay,” he said, half sincere and half joking.
“No, it won’t! What am I supposed to do now?”
Eight years had passed and somewhere along the way I forgot who I was. I had taken on the identity of Mom. Mom feeds the kids. Mom bathes the kids. Mom plays with the kids. Mom reads to the kids. What the hell does Miranda do?
I calmed down enough to watch television and Jim went back to bed with a shake of his head. He didn’t get it. No one was upset over the ordeal but me.
The ex-teacher in me finally spoke up. I realized that my kids were confident and happy. They were comfortable leaving because they knew I’d be back. They trusted me and they trusted the world. I had done my job.
When I picked them up from school, neither of them could wait to share their days with me. I listened, interested in what they had to say. When we got back home they both stopped and looked at me.
“How was your day, Mama?” Jimmy asked.
“Oh, boring,” I said.
“You look like you’ve been crying,” Tony said.
“Yeah,” I said as I knelt down and hugged them to me. “I miss you guys when you’re gone.”
“Oh,” Jimmy said. “This is like when you cry at those sappy movies on TV, huh?”
“Yeah, like when Darth Vader dies and they light him on fire,” Tony added.
“Or when they froze Han Solo in carbonite,” Jimmy said, nodding.
I laughed as they both ran off to one-up each others “sappy” moments.
I didn’t know who Miranda was anymore, I’d find her soon enough. The important thing was that I cling to these moments with my kids. I thought of the commercial from my youth about the kid who takes his lollipop to a wise, old owl and asks him how many licks it takes to get to the center. How many years will I have before they aren’t kids anymore? I didn’t even want to think about it. How long will it take for me to tire of their laughter and wonderment? The world may never know.