by Arlene James
My children are all grown now. They don’t remember a time when Mom did not write and have deadlines. As each one went off to school, my writing became more serious. Fortunately, they liked school. The youngest, however, was home alone for five years while the elders were busy with their classes and extracurricular activities.
When Joseph was small, I made my office his playroom, and we spent the day there together. He is a quiet soul and would play happily with his toys in the kneehole of my desk. I learned to type sitting sideways, in the days before we were blessed with cordless keyboards. When the older children came home, both Joseph and I shifted gears. He went instantly from being Mama’s Baby to One of the Rowdy Gang. Leaving my imaginary world behind, I devoted myself to snacks, homework, playtime and dinner. Dad came in, and we all sat down together to enjoy the evening meal.
The rub came when Joseph finally started school. He was so excited to be in the same building as his older brother and to shop for his very own school supplies. His big brother talked proudly about his kindergarten experience and how glad he’d been to get on to First Grade and then Second and so on. We purchased a suitable “First Day” wardrobe for Joseph, enrolled him, and off he went.
I waited anxiously in the front yard for the school bus to drop him off at noon, eager to hear all about his first day. As he trudged up the walkway, he beamed. We hugged, and then he loudly declared, “Boy, I’m glad that’s over! Those kids are nuts. They run and scream and never hear the teacher. I almost asked her to call you to come get me, but now I’m all finished.”
Carefully, I explained that kindergarten lasted for an entire school year. His eyes grew wide.
“You mean I have to do that again?”
Later, as I went through his backpack, I found a note from his teacher. “Joseph,” it read, “is a bright, well-behaved boy, but he has little tolerance for noise, running, laughter or music. We need to work on broadening his horizons.”
As I thought back, I realized that my quiet little boy who played patiently in my quiet office alone for the majority of every day while I quietly worked at my writing had been ill prepared for an entire morning of activities with twenty other children, especially on a daily basis. His quietness had suited my purposes perfectly, but he didn’t have my background of noisy distractions. He had only me and the clatter of the keys as I typed, then a structured evening of predictable routine. I had created a kindergarten phobic, and it would get better only marginally over the coming months.
Every morning proved a battle of wills as he begged to stay home or “go to First Grade.” Very purposefully, I began turning on the stereo or the television after he came home from school, and he gradually got used to the “noise,” but it became clear that his teacher thrived on the very chaos that he deplored. We arranged for his big brother to sit with him at lunch, and that helped, too, but sadly it was the highlight of his day. The next year, we requested a teacher who maintained a structured classroom, and he did much better. By Second Grade, he was as anxious to hit the schoolhouse doors as his siblings were, but—Oh!—what a struggle that first year was.
Never assume that what works well for you is what your child needs.