So we had to walk over to the ELEMENTARY SCHOOL the other night to register our daughter for KINDERGARTEN.
I know, right?
She’s turning five this Spring so that means SCHOOL this fall. Real school, not any of this “nursery school” business we’ve been playing at for the last couple of years. Sure, they ease you into it. You go for half days for the first year, but there’s no mistaking it: you’re in the system. Next year she’ll be in grade 1, and if you’re in grade 1 you might as well be in grade 3. And if you’re in grade 3 you might as well be in grade 7, right? And if you’re in grade 7 you might as well be in grade 11 and getting your driver’s license…
There’s another aspect to this whole “getting in the system” feeling aside from the sense of time picking up. It also means that we are looking at the end of the time when my wife and I (and our immediate family and close friends) represent the total sphere of influence around her. That’s it, everybody! We had 5 years and we’ve either done a decent job or we’ve screwed up. There are scant weeks left in our dominance. You hear the notion that someone’s personality is pretty much set by age 5. My wife says we get that idea from Freud, and that it has soaked into most of our ideas of child development. She doesn’t really believe in Freud herself, and I’d say she should know, working as an Early Childhood Educator for over 10 years. She’s been in the shit, and I’d listen to an ECE over a pervy Austrian with Daddy issues any day of the week (except Thursdays. Thursdays I’m all your, Sigmund! Please, no oral or anal thoughts here.)
But I don’t know, I don’t know man. What I do know is that age 5 does feel like a huge milestone. It’s like we are coming to a clearing in the forest, or maybe a mesa’s plateau, or maybe, I don’t know, the end of the salad. It feels like in those POV video games where you are about to die and all of a sudden you level up and you’re given full strength and a couple of extra lives and whatever happened in that first phase is left behind and you’re given a new set of instructions and goals to navigate and manoeuver the next set of hurdles. I’m trying not to freak out here, okay? I do realize that all along there have been tiny, almost imperceptible changes. The first one I ever really noticed and mourned was when we switched from using 4 oz bottles to 8 oz bottles, at around 3 or 4 months.
“What do you mean, we won’t be using the 4 ouncers any more?” I asked my wife with the slightest bit of tremble in my voice.
“Well, she’s drinking so much, she can take 8 ounces at once.”
“Well, I still have all these 4 oz liners? What am I supposed to do with them?” (I wasn’t really concerned about wasting the liners, you understand. It was a cover up for my deep-seated upset about knowing that I would never in this life, with this little girl, need to make a 4 oz bottle ever again. That part was over. And it wasn’t like there was much chance of us having another child, so I couldn’t just put them in the basement and say “I’ll just hang onto these guys for a couple of years and have my cupcakey cry then when I stop using them with our second child”). Like the Tragically Hip remind us, “No Dress Rehearsals, This is our life.” Instead, I think we ended up giving them to friends who just had a baby themselves.
Well off we went for the school’s open house. The school doesn’t look like all that much from the street, but when we got inside, it seemed to expand down two really long hallways.
“It’s bigger on the inside,” I said to my wife.
“Like the T.A.R.D.I.S,” was her response.
We listened to the principal (remember everyone, it’s spelled PAL because the principal is your FRIEND! Remember that one?) and then the French teacher, and some grade six kids showed off how well they could do it in French. I think my wife was impressed with that. I was impressed that they had this program where they team up grade sixers with kindergarten kids as “mentors” throughout the year. I’m sure our daughter would love that. They talked about how the school was “a warm, friendly community” and that “children learn through play” and stuff like that. All the things you want to hear, but all I was really hearing was “Say Goodbye to your child. She’s ours now. We’ll try not to mess her up but no promises.” They talked about the recent school play, oddly called “The Big Chill”. I leaned over to my wife and said, “I wonder who they got to play Jeff Goldblum?” and I got an eye roll back. Mission accomplished!
We then heard from the kindergarten teacher herself, who didn’t really impress me all that much. She seemed a little too “sweet and cheery” and I got the impression she might show a different face to prospective parents than she would to the kids, BUT THE JOKE’S ON HER because she’s PREGNANT and won’t be our daughter’s teacher next year anyway! Boom!
By the end of the night, we filled in the application forms and dropped them off with the secretary and went home. The die is cast. There’s no going back. The only thing to find out now is whether she’s in the AM or the PM class. Hugs, anyone?
So I know this whole “going to kindergarten” thing isn’t the first big change we’ve had to deal with, but it is still on my mind and I’m not sure if I’m handling it the way I should.
I’m experiencing my own “levelling up” later on this spring too. Turning 40. Forty. Four tea. Fore tee. Fourty? Dudes in their forties are like golfers and stock brokers and cholesterol watchers and talk radio listeners. I’m not any of those things! (I mean, I like listening to podcasts, but that’s different, right?)
Don’t worry friends, this isn’t going to turn into an angsty “I’m turning forty” blog post. I’m sure I’ll treat you to that one or ones closer to the actual day. But there is an element of “reset” when you have a significant birthday, isn’t there? Your self-identity changes. You are no longer “in your 30s”, but now “in your 40s” and possibly even “in your 50s” if the next ten years go reasonably well. I’m kinda taking it personally right now, but maybe I’ll come to some deep Alan Watts-style understanding before May and share my wisdom with all of you. But really, think about it: if you’re 31 or if you 39, you are both “in your 30s” despite an 8 year difference. But 39 to 40, which takes the blink of a second, seems like such a sea change that it’s almost like you’ve been given full health and a new set of lives and a new mission to work on.
You’ve levelled up and you’re ready, ready for the laughing gas. You’re ready, ready for what’s next.