Last Child Off to Kindergarten
When my youngest daughter, Kristen, was preparing to start kindergarten last year, I thought a lot about what was going to happen with her, her personality and adjustment. But I also thought a lot about me. I quit my job to stay home when my oldest, Lauren, 12, was first born. I was home for 11 years. So, last summer I thought, “How is this going to change my life? Here I was with my children every single day, and this changes a lot of things.”
I concentrated a lot on what my purpose was going to be, as a stay-at-home mom when I don’t have a child at home anymore. That was odd.
It is different with your last child than it is when the first goes to school. With Lauren, when she went, it was more like, “Oh, I’m nervous about her going.” With Kristen it was “Oh, I know she will do fine.” I was familiar with the school, where my son, Brian, 9, also goes, and comfortable with that. But I was sad that that phase of my life was ending.
The summer before Kristen started school, we did kind of have the mentality of “this is the last summer that we will have a kid at home, then they all are going to be together at school.” We thought of that summer as kind of a celebration: “Make this the best summer ever!” We went to Disney in Florida and had this great vacation to make it memorable for everybody.
The preparation for my youngest daughter was helped by the fact that I knew she would be going to Holy Cross School, in DeWitt, where my son also goes. I spent a lot of time taking her into Holy Cross. I was able to take her into the kindergarten classroom ahead of time—besides the orientations she’d already had. She knew the school, and I think that helped a lot.
We did things like read Natasha Wing’s The Night Before Kindergarten, and just talking about what school is like, getting the excitement going by getting her backpack and picking out the lunchbox. She had been there before and knew a lot of kids who were going to be in her class.
Her siblings, Brian and Lauren, were great about telling her what she would do—little things like “You’re going to have centers after lunch” or “You’re going to play Heads Up, 7 Up,” just silly things like that.
We never dwelled on how Kristen’s life would change. She didn’t need to be told that. And children adjust better than we think they will. Sometimes I think we moms are more nervous than they are.
I think with my first two children, I prepared them more academically. With Kristen, I knew what was coming. The time we had together was precious. Of course, I taught her how to write her name and all those things, but she’s going to be in school for a lot of years. I wasn’t as adamant about teaching her the entire alphabet, all the shapes, all the colors. She knew most of that anyway, but I wasn’t as regimented about it because that’s what you do in kindergarten. That’s what it’s all about, learning the rules. With Lauren and Brian I was more concerned with making sure they knew all that already. I was more relaxed with Kristen about that, and it comes. I learned that she is going to pick up things that I don’t necessarily present to her in a book.
On the very first day of school, I think she was nervous but we tried to keep it in the fun mode. She did want to know where I was going to be. So I gave her visuals—I told her what I’d be doing and what she would be doing at school at that time. We also did The Kissing Hand—that Audrey Penn story. I kissed her hand, and she kissed my hand so we’re always together. She also knew her siblings were in the same school, so I told her to look for them at certain times of the day.
There was excitement on that first day, but I cried, too. I drove them to school and I didn’t want to linger in her classroom too long. I walked her down, took her stuff in, and luckily a friend she knew was already there. I just said, “Have a good day!” snapped a picture, and said, “I’ll see you in a little while.”
Walking out of the school, I remember thinking, “All three of my kids are in there. What do I do now?”
The toughest adjustment in those first weeks of school was bedtime—getting Kristen to bed early enough. You don’t realize the energy they expend just being at school—it wears them out. She didn’t come home and want to go to sleep right away, but we had to adjust to try and get her to bed earlier. She also always came home hungry. I think with all the socializing during lunchtime, they don’t eat much. By the time they unwrap their food, that half-hour or whatever is over.
I was also surprised by the responsibility she wanted to take on during those first weeks. I thought I would need to help her more with her clothes, but she would get up and get her clothes: “It’s a gym day. Where are my sneakers?” They surprise you that they like that routine, they want it.
I think with the youngest, too, they see the siblings and they are so familiar with what the siblings have done. Most kids want to do what their siblings do. Kristen knew how much Brian and Lauren loved school, and that helped her. Brian in particular wanted to walk her to her classroom and show her things. I thought that was kind of neat to see that new dynamic between the siblings—he wanted to take on that big brother role.
To be honest, I don’t think I ever adjusted well to having all the kids in school. It’s one of my goals for this school year, to try and implement a schedule for myself when I’m not working part time as a teacher’s aide at the school. I thought I was going to have all this time, but I didn’t. Between dropping them off and picking them up, the time passed quickly.
I was a little depressed at first, now that I think about it. Moms should set up time to see some friends and talk a bit, catch up with some of those things. You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking some time for yourself.
My husband, Dave, had some of the same emotions because he always saw Kristen as his baby. It was a new phase in our lives. At the same time he recognized that it was a big change for me.
With your oldest, for most people, you have a typical stereotype. They are usually more of a leader. You think of them as being older. Lauren at 6 was different than how I think of Kristen at 6. Your oldest seems more ready. When Kristen was 5, and starting kindergarten, she seemed younger because she was the youngest. It’s inevitable that you treat the younger one younger. You expect more of your oldest. But the younger siblings are able to do more than you think. We didn’t give Kristen responsibilities because we thought she was too young; then she wanted to have those responsibilities.
Have you been there? If you’ve survived one of parenthood’s transitions, we’d like to hear from you. You can write your own story or tell it to a reporter, and Family Times will publish it. To express your interest in contributing to Family Times, send your name, daytime phone number and a brief summary of your experience to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Davis Photos