Before my daughter was born, I had some very strong opinions about education. I didn’t buy into all that touchy feely everyone’s-a-snowflake-and-gets-a-ribbon-just-for-trying kind of junk. If you can survive the embarrassment of passing gas during circle time or enduring 3-years of being called “Bun Head” because your mother insisted that your hair looked so pretty that way, you would be better prepared for the real world and all its cold-hearted glory.
I still feel the same way, just not when it comes to my child.
When touring potential elementary schools, I looked for nurturing teachers and classrooms blessed with at least a hint of Feng Shui. I imagined an extension of our home; a quiet place where teachers don’t raise their voices and children do the right thing because, well, it’s the right thing. No, my child isn’t perfect, but because she’s mine, she’s more perfect than most. She’s very neat, rather quiet and incredibly self-aware. One day when she was feeling anxious, she began to cry. Then she looked in the mirror and said to her reflection, “Really, there’s nothing to cry about,” wiped her tears and moved on.
Of course, I didn’t find that school, at least not for under $8,000 a year. So I enrolled Ava in a large public school with a really good reputation. Reputation for what, I wasn’t exactly sure. Producing early readers? Military cadets? Nobel Prize winners?
“The teachers don’t even say ‘please,’” Ava complained on the first day. “And you can’t wave to your friends in the hallway or talk during lunch.”
I should’ve known something was up when Ava wasn’t eating her twist-top pouch of applesauce.
“I couldn’t open it,” she explained matter-of-factly.
“Why didn’t you ask your teacher for help?”
“I did. But she said, ‘Maybe you should ask your mommy teach you.’”
Or maybe I should send her to school. You know, the place where people teach.
If a teacher had said that to me when I was 5, I would’ve felt ashamed, built up a heaping load of resentment and probably started eating my hair. But my kid shrugs it off.
They even want me to drop my child at the front door. “She’s a big girl now, Mom,” the teacher on patrol sings as she blocks the entrance to the kindergarten hallway.
No, she’s not a “big girl.” She’s 42-inches tall and still believes she’ll grow up to look like Barbie. I have one kid and no job, so I can do this ALL DAY LONG, lady.
Then there are the uniforms. And the reading logs. And the homework. And a list of rules so long, it would make the IRS proud.
But despite the fact that I feel as if elementary school is preventing my child from becoming a freethinking individual (and thus compromising her ability to secure the Nobel Prize), Ava really seems to like it.
“It was awesome!” she says everyday at pick-up even if she’s starving and partially dehydrated because trying to open a Capri-Sun on your own is like trying to put an IV in a goldfish.
So this is where the overprotective parent with a little too much free time must step back and at least entertain the idea that these people know what they’re doing. My child is safe, engaged and thriving. She’s proud of what she has learned to do on her own, both in the classroom and the bathroom (I truly didn’t know she was capable). With a little tough love, she has developed a thicker skin. She understands abstract terms like accountability, responsibility and how to be considerate of others, which she defines as “not kicking other kids in the head.” At 5, she understands that bringing a Batman cup to school is social suicide. She tells me how she wants her hair done, so as to avoid unwanted monikers such as “Bun Head.”
If only I had gone to this school.