Friday, September 19, 2008

What Every Kid Knows - but will never tell

Every mother faces that day - the first day of kindergarten when they leave their child to the unknown world of school. I remember when it was The Boy's first day.

Timid and shy, he stood with his back against the brick wall of the school, only watching as the other children ran about to greet schoolmates they had left behind when classes ended in June. On his first day of school, The Boy stood as close as he could get to me, with all the clingy need of a kindergartener , eliciting promises from me to stay with him. I was calm, reassuring and comforting. I told him all about his day and how much fun he would have. He looked up with the eyes of a dog that had been beaten as if to say "How could you do this to me"?

But that was the first day of school. By the third morning, when his older sister was not going to be able to watch over him, and I was torn between staying or being on time for work, I was told in a confident voice "Just go ahead, Mom, I can handle this myself".

A strange thing happens to your beautiful, loving and needy children when they start school. They become kids. They speak the language of kids, their ideas and opinions come from other kids and the only people who are acknowledged to know anything are other kids. I remember all too well the innocent five year old girl with the silken curls, the frilly pink dream of every mother that I took for her first day of kindergarten 9 years ago. That little angel went into the school that day, but she never returned. Instead, they sent home a kid. I still have not recovered from the first time those soft, cherry lips uttered her first kid phrase: "Duh, Mom, I already know that".

I assume that whatever strange and mysterious things go on at school, they are too secretive to share with parents for it seems the children are debriefed at the end of the day with strict instructions to never admit to knowing anything or remembering anything that occurred during school hours. The Boy has only been in school for two weeks before he knew the routine well. I could see his resolve in our conversation while driving home one day that first year.

"What did you have for lunch at school today?" I already knew the items on the menu, I was just being interested in his choices. I thought mothers do that, so I was trying it.


"Nothing? I gave you lunch money, didn't you order lunch?"

"I don't know."

"You gave them your lunch money, what did you order?"

"I don't know."

This line of questioning obviously wasn't going to work so I took another tack.

"When your teacher takes you and your class to the cafeteria, what do you do there?"

"I don't know."

"Do you get a tray with food on it? Do you sit with your class and eat?"

"I don't know."

"Okay, let me get this straight. When you went into the cafeteria you blacked out and entered some kind of vortex and when you emerged you had no memory of it?"

"I ordered a hamburger and they gave me pizza."

Finally a confession, apparently brought about only because they had made a mistake. His loyalty to the secret school society was weakened when they disappointed him.

"And white milk."

That must have been the last straw, he spat the words "white milk" as if they left a bad taste in his mouth. Even I would not have been so foolish as to forget the chocolate milk and I am only a mother.

But that was the last revelation. I tried to find out what they learned, what games they played or how he liked his teacher. But he had recognized his slip and all I got was: "I don't know".

When I went for my first parent/teacher conference, I heard what a polite child he was, how friendly and outgoing with other children. The teacher explained what letters they were practicing and how they had learned to count by tens. She showed me his artwork and praised his efforts.

But for all I know, it could all be a lie. It may be that they do none of these things. All I have to go by is this stranger's word and a few scraps of paper with some scribbles on them. I have no way of knowing what really goes on in the secret school society.

The Boy knows, but he's not talkin'.


Luisa Lapus Tiong said...

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Andrea Paulsen said...

Thank you for your gracious invitation luisa, but despite the canine connotations of its title, this blog isn't actually about dogs.
Still as a pet lover, I wish you well.