Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kindergarten, Parenting, and Mike Mauseth

The countdown is on - we registered Eliana for kindergarten. It's an emotional time for most parents, I think. Their baby is growing up, it's the start of a new era, and so on and so forth. For me, it's not really so much that she's growing up. I actually love it, because as she gets older, I enjoy parenting more. We get to have conversations, share our thoughts, she even coaches me when I'm being hard on myself during a mom-daughter craft project ("It's OK, mama, it doesn't have to look just like the picture").

No, the emotions I can barely hold back have to do with my own experience of elementary school. To put it bluntly, grade school was hell. The worst 7 years of my life, bar none. It all started in kindergarten, when I realized I had no social skills. Or rather, the other kids realized I had no social skills. It's amazing how quickly little people catch on to that sort of thing. I didn't know how to break into groups of children playing. I had a hard time understanding the rules of their games and figuring out where I could fit. In short, I just couldn't connect.

In the middle of first grade, my family moved to a new part of town and I had to go to a new school. I was given my first nickname on my first day at the new school. As most of you know, my last name was Elofson. Say it out loud and you realize - as did the very clever Mike Mauseth - that it sort of sounds like Elephant. Mike chose to yell out his brilliant revelation while I was still standing with my mother and new teacher: "Elofson? Hey, that sounds like Elephant. Ha! ha! ha!" And what better way to begin one's career at a new school than with a nickname like that?! The writing was on the wall. Mike, and grade school, would torture me for the next 6 years.

By third grade, things had gone from bad to hopeless. Not only was I socially inept, but I was also very tall and very smart. Did I mention we were pretty poor, and so most of my clothes were from Target, long before Target clothes were cool? Oh, and I had ginormous glasses and long, stringy hair because I hated washing it and my parents were all about letting us make our own choices. So, let's see: no friends, tall, smart, huge glasses, greasy hair, bad clothes. Yeah, I can't imagine why things didn't go so well for me back then.

I don't intend to write an autobiography here, but I wanted to give you a bit of my background so you can understand my nearly posttraumatic reaction to Eliana starting kindergarten. I cannot bear to watch a person I love as much as her go through something that devastating and truly (and negatively) life-altering. We already got feedback from her preschool teacher that she's getting into fights with some of the other kids because she wants to join their games but does not want to follow their rules. She doesn't understand how to adapt, she gets frustrated, starts crying, and when I hear that, I want to start crying, too. She has an amazing preschool teacher who is helping her learn how to be more flexible, and we're doing our best to model that behavior at home, too, and help her practice. But what if she ends up like me? What if she has no friends by third grade and comes home crying all the time, confused and lonely? What if she feels sick every day because school is so chronically stressful?

To be honest, I think I'll home school her if things go that poorly. I know, some of you probably think it's best to make her deal with it. But I'm not sure I agree. Maybe if I am there to school her but also provide more structured social opportunities to allow her to learn in a more guided fashion how to navigate the social parts of life, maybe she would be spared the trauma I think forever altered my ability to adjust to new situations and new people. I don't want to overreact, and I don't want to assume that just because she's having a few problems now it means she is turning into me. After all, many of the circumstances are different, and she is not me.

Hopefully, all of my fears are unnecessary. Hopefully, Eliana will never lose the amazing self-confidence, sense of humor, and love of people that I'm not sure I ever possessed, and maybe that will serve as a buffer for anything life - and other children - will throw her way in the coming years.

1 comment:

Billie said...

Terri: It is pretty traumatic, isn't it? Sending out hearts out into the cruel world...As we're winding down with Kindergarten, I can tell you that most likely things won't be nearly as bad as you fear, though every once in awhile they'll give you something to worry about.

I think the good thing now-days is that we have a lot of options in terms of schools. And schools, like any organization, all have their own culture. If the one Eliana goes to first doesn't have the right culture for her, you'll find one that does, or you'll homeschool (which is a better alternative than permanently scarring her little psyche). Anyway, just wanted you to know I empathize! Billie