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Parenting Imperfect

September 18, 2010

New year, same kids --- but boy are they different from each other

And, lo, the day came and there was great rejoicing. I rejoiced, at least. I suspect that primary and secondary school teachers did not.

A knitter friend firmly believes that the new year starts with the first day of school, rather than on Jan. 1.

It's not coincidental that Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated around this time. Generations upon generations have long sensed that fall is when time's passage is best marked because those first autumnal breezes blow away the torpor of late summer.

Besides, who wants to celebrate anything on Dec, 31 when you are up to your tuchas in ice and snow?

Or maybe it's just parents who feel like a new chapter has opened when the kids go back to school. I am simply giddy my two school-age children are back in the classroom expanding their minds _ as opposed to lounging on the couch demanding snacks. (Yes, they know where the snacks are. Yes, they could get up and get them their ownselves, which is what I say every single time snacks are demanded. Yet this seems to be the ritual we have to go through, if only because the snack demanders know that the demands irritate the snot out of me.)

One day before this bold new year, the two of them had spent 24 hours sniping at each other, almost as if they sensed that these halcyon days of fighting about who has more Silly Bandz were coming to an end.

The most recent iteration of the same old sibling squabbling involves the Boy countering everything his sister says with "Liar!" She retorts each time: "How do you know? You don't know anything about it." To which I unfailingly respond, "Ignore him. He's pushing your buttons." It further devolves from there.

This version of their traditional fights isn't what made me hesitate about sending the Boy to kindergarten. Academically _ if such a word can be applied to kindergarten, which is more about easing kids into the concept of school than gruesome rigor _ the Boy is more than ready. He reads, which we keep rediscovering at inappropriate times. Like, say, in a truck stop bathroom during a road trip when he asked what I will call "adult-oriented safety gear" was after reading some of the words from the coin-op dispenser on the wall.

A young woman in a stall near us started giggling as I did my best to avoid explaining with too much detail. To her I say _ one day, you will probably find yourself in the same situation. Have fun with that.

Socially, he seems to be ready, too. I had doubts until I saw him with a bunch of his equally silly and rambunctious peers and realized that he'll fit right in.

But what gave me pause is how completely disinterested he seemed to be in the idea of starting kindergarten. By this point three years ago, the Diva could articulate every last detail about what would happen when she moved to "real" school. She knew the basic routine. She was psyched to go to the library. She had her first-day outfit ready to go a week before the year began.

She was prepared, in other words, and had achieved just the right mix of excited and anxious that I always feel during the first days of the fresh year, even now, 30-plus years after I started "real" school.

The Boy, however, simply shrugged when we mentioned kindergarten. No clothes were picked out. No excitement bubbled up. No anxiety, either. On Wednesday, when walked him into his classroom, he hung up his bag, found his name on a table and sat right down without any fuss. When my husband and I gave him our version of the "goodbye and good luck" speech, he looked surprised that we hadn't already left.

I know it's foolish to compare siblings. Still.

The Diva's first day of kindergarten was marked with peeling her off of my legs and sneaking quietly out of the door after 15 minutes of tears and recriminations. This same kid marked her first day of third grade with skipping up to her new classroom without us. We only tracked her down because we are her personal parental sherpas and carrying the bulk of her supplies in bags on our backs.

Immediately after her first kindergarten day three years previous, The Diva was alight with stories about how good and fun and lovely it had all been. The Boy, after his first day, burst into tears when we were walking out the door and I told him that, no, he won't be taking a big yellow bus home because, really, it's not that far.

Then his sister pointed out that he would take a bus on field trips. To which he responded, "Liar!"

"How do you know? You don't know anything about it."

Oddly enough, I thought they'd be happy to see each other. It's clear that someone in this equation finds it hard to learn, new year or no.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," which was published in March. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/ parentingimperfect.

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