Kindergarten Lessons in Community
By Karen Bongiorno
Kindergarten! Sending your child off to kindergarten is a huge milestone! It will be a big adjustment for you and your child. This is the beginning of what may seem to be an unending stretch of years when your lives revolve around school days and school calendars.
As you leave your child, other parents will be leaving their children at kindergarten for the first time too. You will all be caught up in the emotion and excitement of this day. You may not think of this at present, but some of these children will share the next 13 school years with your child as you will share these years with many of their parents.
When I first became a mother, I hadn’t heard the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” When I did hear it, I understood its wisdom.
I remember quite clearly leaving my daughter at kindergarten. She didn’t look back! The teacher closed the door, and I walked away, feeling dazed. I thought, Now what? I had focused so much attention on getting her ready for kindergarten that I hadn’t thought about how I would feel when I actually left her there. Now I was literally shut off from my child. Two years later, when my son went to kindergarten, he didn’t look back either. Of course, being a second child, he had been around the school campus for two years and felt like he already belonged. He also knew many incoming kindergarteners, as he had met them on the playground after school each day when he and I, and other parents, came to pick up our children after school.
As I left my daughter at kindergarten that day, my son, who was three and about to begin preschool, was with me. Together we went off to take a walk and to get something to drink. I got hot chocolate for my son and coffee for myself and tried to sort out the confusing thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. My daughter had grown enough to begin kindergarten! Wow! and Huh? were my most prominent thoughts, not very illuminating or descriptive. But I knew this was the beginning of a new phase for my daughter, for me, for my son, and for our family. I didn’t have much time to think about what this meant as I was still taking care of my son. But it did mean I would now have extended alone time with him for the first time in his three and a half years.
When it was time to pick up my daughter after school that first day, my son and I went to the kindergarten playground. We wanted to be right there when the bell rang and my daughter emerged. Other parents were waiting too. We greeted each other and asked one another, “Do you have a boy or a girl?” “How did your child do, going into class?” “How did you do with your child starting kindergarten today?”
Our common experience gave us an immediate connection with one another. The gnawing hole in my stomach and the hyper level of alertness that had been with me all day began to recede as we talked about our children, their new beginnings, and how these events were affecting us. I realized we all felt much the same way. What was common for each of us was the pride we had in our children and excitement for these new beginnings. This was mixed with our apprehension of the unknown, not knowing how our children were doing, and hoping they would be fine.
Our children were animated as they burst out of the classroom at the end of that first day. They were happy to see us and ready for snacks and some downtime.
Going forward, each day after school, an assortment of parents and caregivers would be waiting for our kindergartners. We’d meet and talk. Those of us with younger children could let them play on the playground while we waited. It was pleasant and easy to spend time together this way. Gradually, we began friendships and became familiar with one another as neighboring families.
You’ll share the path of parenting with many mothers, fathers, teachers, coaches, school administrators, counselors, and other caregivers. Some will become part of the village and even become lasting friends with whom you will share memories of your children growing up together.
Adapted with permission from ABCs of Being a Mom: Advice and Support from the Mom Next Door by Karen Bongiorno (She Writes Press, 2021).
Find out more at karenbongiorno.com.