10 October 2013

This Is Only a Test

Kindergarten. Month 2. Are we having fun yet?

So, what is kindergarten like these days? Well, as the father of a new kindergartner, I’m here to tell you . . . nothing. Well, almost nothing. Because I have no idea what it’s like. When we ask about the Doozer’s day, we get maybe two random, half-pieces of information out of him. That’s a victory. If he tells us three things it’s a banner day in our house.

What is he doing there? Who are his friends? Is he having fun? I swear kindergarten is like five-year-old Fight Club, that’s how tight-lipped he constantly is about the whole enterprise.

I can tell you that there’s homework. Of course, we often have to go directly into his backpack to learn what that homework is. I feel like we’re searching through his stuff for drug paraphernalia.

“He’s been acting differently since he started school. Have you noticed?”

“I thought I was imagining it.”

“Thank god it’s not just me.”

Now, we don’t want to do homework. But he can’t very well do it on his own. We need to participate. But really, I’ve done enough homework in my life. I thought I was done with homework forever. This isn’t fair. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

Speaking of tired, mornings are now the worst in our house. The worst. I thought I had more time before this happened. I thought I had years before this happened. But a few weeks of kindergarten have transformed our adorable, perky, lovable 5-year-old into a sullen, moody, irritable teenager. He’s basically that kid from the Zits comic strip now. Every morning I try to gently wake him from his slumber and he goes from being asleep to being Chris Farley in the Gap girl sketch in no time flat (“Leave me alone, I’m starving!”).

Getting him out of bed now requires cajolement, harassment, threats, intimidation—sometimes a variety of these tactics together. And most of the time I end up having to physically drag him out of bed and carry him downstairs over my shoulder. Where he promptly flops on the sofa and pulls a blanket over his head.

Good times.

I am not at my best in these moments. I’m not that awake yet myself, I haven’t had enough coffee. Plus, I’ve got my own problems. I’m trying to get out the door too. He’s not the only one who needs to be somewhere at a particular time every morning.

All this, the homework and the early morning wake-up calls, the lunches and snacks, the communication breakdowns and hostile negotiations, is beginning to make me feel that kindergarten is just all one big test. For us.

Forget about parenting in general. That’s its own kind of test, an evil method of trying to root out what you’re really made of, an exhaustive investigation into the true nature of your character, a constant interrogation along the lines of, Do you have the mettle and the fortitude to contend with all this? Kindergarten just amplifies that shit and suddenly your difficulties go from 0 to 60. You had it easy before, my friend. You fool. You never saw this coming.

I feel like I’m being watched and judged all the time. (I mean, more so than usual.) Can you handle this? Who will be the first to break? Will they snap at each other, or their kid, or random strangers on the street? Yes, will you just lose it on complete strangers?

Which is why I am dreading parent-teacher conferences. I imagine it to just be a referendum on my parenting skills and by extension, my usefulness as a human being on this planet.

And no amount of studying can help me pass that test.

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