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Someday our son is going to be a rocket scientist and our daughter is going to be a brain surgeon.

Okay, an engineer and a veterinarian.

A front-end loader driver and a birdwatcher?

Or maybe a civil defense siren and Tatu from Fantasy Island. “Nee! Nee!” (The plane! The plane!)

Clearly, their interests as a preschooler and a toddler, respectively, are going to determine their life’s interests. Just as where they go to preschool and elementary school is going to determine their success. The options, the opinions and the pressure. All before they’ve learned to tie their shoes. And all before their father and I have been approved for a second mortgage.

It’s all a little… ridiculous. I should not be on Prozac because my son won’t participate in a full-day kindergarten program (yeah, I’m already on Prozac, anyway).

Lest you think otherwise, I’m not a negligent parent (when it comes to education). I like to think I approached our preschool decision with solid advice in my back pocket…

Many moons ago, I worked for an organization that counted among its staff esteemed early childhood professionals. The Ph.D. kind with more years of experience than I’ve had years of life. And you know what they recommended? Learning through play. Imaginative play.

So we (and by “we,” I mean I told my husband what we were doing) chose to send our son to our park district’s preschool, which supports a “learning through play” philosophy. And, despite some parents’ protests that they were lax on academics, our son’s experience was exactly what we sought: he participated in developmentally-appropriate activities, learned appropriate behavior for the classroom, made friends and enjoyed school. Score one for us!

This fall, we enter the big leagues. Kindergarten. You know, where entire academic careers are made or broken. Our community is bursting with options, from exclusive to public to parochial full-day. Part of our master plan in moving back to our hometown five years ago was to take advantage of the excellent public schools. But to back up our good intentions, I all but earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Google.

I have sought international research about full-day v. half-day kindergarten. I have studied philosophies of education: classical method, Montessori method, progressivism, anthroposophy, homeschooling, afterschooling, unschooling. I have read about John Dewey and Francis Parker and Charlotte Mason and John Holt and Neil Postman.

Happily, it’s all led back to our original decision (score two for us!), to send our children to our neighborhood public school, where our son will attend a half-day kindergarten program with peers from (slightly) varied backgrounds. And as I’ve planned, I’ll supplement his education using the methods/philosophies that suit him best. I think he’ll be eager to build his critical thinking skills, to learn from a hands-on approach. We’ll see.

As I’ve said before, he’ll learn his reading, writing and arithmetic. He already knows his letters and their sounds, and can do simple math (especially with M&Ms). My hope is that with our help, he’ll develop a love for learning that will complement his unbridled curiosity and imagination. Thinking, reasoning, questioning, experimenting. Whatever works. If we can achieve that, we’ll all win.


My family and I drove to Alaska when I was 7 or 8. (Yes, you can do that… a story for another time.)

Along the way, we took in a few natural wonders, the geyser “Old Faithful” among them. I apparently insisted on calling it “Old Reliable,” which admittedly makes me chuckle. I now find myself longing to be referred to as reliable. Old… not so much.

But it’s unlikely. I’m habitually late. My preschooler and his friend have learned to run from the car to school, and that they’ll likely be “the caboose” — again — because we’re late. My extended family takes bets on when my family will arrive to holiday dinners, and my friends know to add a half-hour when I say I’ll be over at 10:00.

I like to blame it on my husband, but really I procrastinate of my own accord. Sometimes my tardiness is relatively legit: the baby sleeps late; the phone rings as I’m walking out the door; yeah, I can’t think of anything else right now. Usually, I just don’t have my, um, act together. I try to squeeze in 10 minutes of extra sleep, I can’t find my son’s socks, I let my son watch TV during breakfast so he’s moving in slow motion lest he of Higglytown Heroes. I can’t find my car keys, I have to get the diaper bag packed for the gym, my hair is sticking out funny and I need to run the straightening iron over just one little section.

In a perfect world, I would be prepared. Clothes would be laid out the night before. Diaper bag would be stocked. Our water bottles washed and maybe even filled. My keys would be in the cute little bowl on the counter, my cell phone would be charged. The kids would be well rested and cooperative.

And you know what would happen? I’d be so calm, cool and collected, I’d let my son have an extra five minutes of TV because, you know what? We have five minutes; what would we do if we were five minutes early? If nothing else, anyone who typically waits on us wouldn’t yet be ready.

And that would be inconsiderate of us, wouldn’t it?

I don’t intend to be inconsiderate. In my head I’m really dependable. But there’s a huge disparity between the two. I feel shame. So much more importantly, in four months it will no longer be about me. My son begins kindergarten, and there will be no more sauntering in after the bell. I have to ensure he’s prompt. Poor kid.

I’m hoping kindergarten will be the impetus to change my evil ways. This is my challenge, and I accept it… or I will, anyway. In a minute.

It’s kindergarten. Not college, you chide.

Beginning next fall, my son will make the trek four blocks to our neighborhood school for about three hours, five days a week. I’m proud and apprehensive about his next step toward independence. Some parents get all worked up about academics and kindergarten as the new first grade, yadda yadda. Me? Not so much. He’s a smart kid, and he’ll learn his reading, writing and arithmetic. We have good schools in our town, and I’m an involved parent. It’s relatively cut and dried.

But something shakes me Mean kids. Lord help me when it’s my daughter’s turn, because I’m already cringing just thinking about how mean kids can be.

My husband and I have always taught our son to be a good friend to everyone, and if someone isn’t being a good friend in return, to play with someone else. But how do you instill a deep sense of self confidence and personal strength? A sense that you get to choose whose opinions matter, and if a kid tells you your coat is ugly/your favorite book is for babies/you’re not good enough to play soccer, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you’re a good friend. You appreciate who and what makes you happy. What matters is how you’ll decide to define your own success. How you’ll make the most of what you’ve got. You may never be the best at something — and certainly will never be the best at everything — but you can always do your best. And you’re loved more than you’ll ever comprehend.

Excuse me while I put down my pompoms and/or Kleenex. ;)

It’s obvious to me that this soul shaking stems from my own struggle to find self confidence. I have my moments of peace, but I’m much better at worrying about and doubting the person I am.

So this is a big part of life. And life isn’t easy. Or fair, for that matter. But how do you convey that to a 4 (and three quarters)-year-old kid? Who happens to be my baby: a big guy who loves all things manly and construction, but has a gentle heart and will cry if he meets our disapproval.

Did I mention parenting is hard?