The rite of kindergarten

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 06:06 PM

“Kindergarten?” the woman at the school entrance asked us. What gave it away? Two parents with two cameras (plus the phone camera) and a little boy grinning expectantly?
I’ve just gone through the rite of passage experienced by thousands of you and millions of Americans. My child started kindergarten.
I didn’t tear up on the first day of kindergarten, but I did on the last day of preschool, just a day earlier. My son had brought pink flowers for his teacher, and she wrote a lovely thank you note. As I read it aloud, that’s when I choked up. A major shift in our lives had come. I put the note in a scrapbook. We looked at my boy’s class picture from when he was just 2, and how much his classmates have grown. They’re now scattered to other elementary schools, segueing to new lives.
On the first day of kindergarten, my husband and I walked my son inside. I held our boy’s hand and gave him a big hug when it was time to leave. On the way out, I held my husband’s hand. He stopped to take pictures of the building and the name of the school on the mat outside. I took a picture of him, because it’s a big day for the parents, too. We walked to our cars and headed off to work. After school, he picked our son up and they went out for frozen yogurt. I called, unable to wait until dinnertime to hear about our 5-year-old’s day. I got the rundown – there were things to build, Legos, lunch, recess, and he made a frog. No circle time. There was naptime, but it was short. OK, I said, I want to hear more about it at dinner. I just told you, he said. But he has a reporter for a mother – I ask follow up questions.
That evening I heard about the gym and how kids threw up a ball and clapped before they caught it. I heard that he already knew the words to the Pledge of Allegiance when it came on over the intercom. And I heard that at recess, my son played firefighters with some other kids whose names he doesn’t know yet. Kids make friends pretty easily. That morning, as we waited to sign in, we stood behind another kindergartener who had a Lightning McQueen backpack. Our kindergartener has a Spider-Man backpack. He got out his Lightning McQueen lunch box to show the other kid. They said “Hi.”
On my commute to work, I was almost at the newspaper (after calling my own mom and giving her the rundown of kindergarten morning) and I saw a school bus. It was probably empty, but I thought sentimentally about the kids who were on it earlier and all the hopes and struggles and triumphs they’ll have at school. I want to hug every kid and tell them, like I did my son, “I’m proud of you. Have a great day.”
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563.