Even Leaving Kindergarten A Milestone

(Originally a column from The Beach Reporter from 7/5/90.)

It was a commonplace scene this time of year. A time of new beginnings that we mark by a ceremony we call graduation. It calls to mind a rush of days that somehow add up to this day, this time, this place. A time when there is no looking back, except to remember. This is mostly a time to look forward, to shed the past, and look directly into the future.

April brings the primrose sweet/ Scatters daisies at our feet/ May brings flocks of pretty lambs/ Skipping by their fleecy dams/ June bring tulips, lilies, roses/ Fills the children’s hands with posies.

The children who recited these simple words were fifteen of a graduating class of forty-five, three kindergarten classes at my daughter’s school. When I first heard about the ceremony, I thought – kindergarten graduation? Hardly necessary.

But when I saw the forty-five freshly scrubbed faces dressed in their finest, and I listened to the poems and songs that they had been memorizing all year, I decided it was somehow fitting and special that these children should mark the end of their first year in school with a proper ceremony.
At the beginning of the school year, they were a different group of boys and girls. Some clinging to their parents, some crying, some acting coolly confident, even though you could see uncertainty in their eyes. This was different than preschool or day care. This was “real” school, where there were rules and expectations, and where you were expected to shed your babyhood overnight.

Kindergarten is not what it used to be. I remember it as graham crackers and milk, a nap on your very own little mat from home, crayons and finger paints. Today your average kindergartner has computer, reading readiness, beginning math, physical education, music, and art. They learn the beginnings of writing in sentences and thinking for themselves. They learn about how drugs are bad, and what to do if there is an earthquake while they are at school.

Hopefully your child will have a teacher with an affinity for this age. Six year-olds are full of strange habits. Some still suck their thumbs, some can’t sit still for more than thirty seconds, some eat Play-Doh, and some chew their fingernails or hair.

They seem to know that they are supposed to act bigger now, and mostly they are anxious to please. They can be argumentative, moody, and test your patience. But they also have a pure joy of life that is wonderful to be around. They fairly burst out of their skins with all the new things they learn in kindergarten.

They lose their first teeth, get the chicken pox, they pass sore throats around like wildfire. Their bodies are gangly and awkward, and they love anything physical. They are fiercely protective of best friends, but can be easily crushed by a careless word.

They are shedding the last vestiges of their babyhood, and clinging to it at the same time. They ask endless questions about death, love, friendship, and heaven. They memorize the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. They learn about cultures all over the world.

There are five rules in my daughter’s class. Keep your hands and feet to yourselves, raise your hand to talk, stay in your seat, take turns, and use good manners. The rest of the stuff is gravy.

Hot July brings cooling showers/ Apricots and gillyflowers. August brings the sheaves of corn/ Then the harvest home is borne.

And the video cameras whir, the still cameras click photo after photo. Forty-five innocent, earnest faces singing and reciting in unison. And the seasons they go ‘round and ‘round.

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