"You’re here, I didn’t even see you!” Zach yells across the room, as I enter the colorful and organized domain of my son’s kindergarten classroom. I smile and reply “yes, Zach, I made it”, as if there’s any other place I would be on the day I get to read a story to my son and his classmates. Since it’s late October I even have the bonus of being able to wear Halloween attire (just a shirt, I’m not going completely overboard), and of course our reading fare is spooky-themed. I tuck my purse into the corner and watch as my boy’s wonderful kindergarten teacher settles twentysomething whirling dervishes on the large “morning circle” rug, then take my seat with material in hand.
I immediately have flashbacks to my teaching days (the good kind).
Zach is told he may sit next to me in my “seat of honor” perch, and I can see as he slides into his chair that he’s almost vibrating out of his little body with excitement. Before I settle him down a bit I make a mental note to remember this moment when he’s fourteen, and I transform into just his ‘stupid mom’. I begin speaking to the class, although the little bugger has already stolen my thunder a bit by telling all of his friends that I used to be a teacher (although once a teacher, always a teacher).
I forge on ahead anyway with my introductory spiel, and I watch as at least half the children’s eyes grow wide at my confession, particularly when I share that my students’ ages were in the double digits. They listen raptly, and I realize I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for the younger set, one I truly only developed after having my own children.
My rule about only instructing kids who are old enough to get my jokes remains. I still have my limits.
I begin reading “Room on the Broom”, one of Zach’s favorites that he knows inside and out, and I can literally see my son struggle to contain his emotions, he is so enthusiastic about my presence. I remind myself that this is still a vast improvement from his pre-school days, where as soon as he spotted me in any audience he’d well up with tears, then cry unabashedly when I left (a situation usually rectified as soon as he had a snack).
Today however this experience for him is just pure, unadulterated joy, with his desire to merge his most important worlds of parents and school just slightly overwhelming him. In an effort to help calm him a bit I quickly request permission to allow him to help me read our ghostly literature, and thankfully his teacher complies. And after at least a dozen interruptions, several “Boos!” and multiple unauthorized trips to the water fountain, we eventually conclude story time.
He’s still thrilled. I am exhausted. I remind myself that this is what I get for having him at forty.
My “fifteen minutes of fame” is over, but I’m thrilled to have been invited to his classroom, to win a window into the world that is my son’s place in a mainstream classroom. I thank the children and gather my things to make a quick exit, my boy blowing kisses at me as I leave, while the professionals behind him help him resettle with his peers. He is clearly thriving there, and I’m so grateful to his educators for truly “getting” Zach, for liking and accepting him the way he is, while simultaneously teaching him how to rein in his exuberance just enough to function appropriately in class.
Truly, this is the crux of all my angst and worries about him. I ponder daily how to encourage him to be exactly who he is, yet help him channel his energies so he can have the things he covets- positive attention, true inclusion, and friends. He stands out a bit, particularly with that energy level that just won’t quit (if only I could siphon some of that off for me), but it’s clear this facet of his nature is viewed as just a part of him.
My boy is seen as a whole person, not broken, not in need of being fixed. It’s obvious he’s in a safe place, one where he can be free to be himself, yet learn the ways of the world without those strictures dissipating his true essence. Zach has lucked into a classroom where differences are not just tolerated, but celebrated. It’s clear he’s viewed as perfect the way he is.
And I think to myself for the millionth time how wonderful it would be if we all treated each another that way, if one day the world would just catch up to kindergarten.