“My baby’s growing up so fast,” she’d say.
“It’s not that big a deal,” I’d grumble.
“Just you wait ’til you have children of your own. Then you’ll know what it feels like to watch them grow away from you.”
Congratulations, Ma, you were right.
Here I am, standing in the school supplies aisle of Staples, fighting back a torrent of tears. My 5-year-old, that little baby who once crawled on the floors of our city apartment, giggling as he tried to escape my kisses, is heading for kindergarten.
Just a few months ago, we witnessed his “graduation” from preschool. Having a matriculation ceremony for 5-year-olds is a bit over the top, but watching him stand on a stage with 45 other dressed-up kids, singing “Happy Graduation Day” (to the tune of “It’s a Small World”) was as much a thrill as it was a heartache. A thrill because Benjamin grinned brightly enough to create a glare in our camera lens and repeatedly waved to his brother Jacob (now almost 2) as if to say, “I made it, little bro‘. I planted the Keer flag on the terra firma of preschool.” A heartache due to the slide show walk down memory lane in which we viewed our first-born racing on tricycles, throwing his arms around friends, and learning with wonderful teachers over the course of two years that are gone (gulp) forever.
At least we have Jacob at home. He allows us to revel in his dependency and his burgeoning abilities to talk toddler English and eat with a fork. Still, all this growing-up-fast has me in a wistful rut that shortens my breath even when Jacob moves from his Gym Runners class to Gym Explorers.
“Oh my God. Jacob doesn’t want to play with the colored Whiffle™ balls anymore! He doesn’t need me to hold his hand on the slide! Somebody call the production office and get me a rewind!”
Doing Our Homework
But my emotions relate to something more than grief for preschool days lost. For much of the past year, my wife and I agonized over where to send Benjamin for kindergarten. As new parents, we thought picking bedding for a crib was overwhelming. Now, selecting parenting classes, daycare and preschool seemed easy, since that was all about fun for Benjamin. Because kindergarten is the gateway to a five- or six-year academic and social course, we took on this task with the force of a law firm on a Supreme Court case.
Our school district allows parents to apply for lottery admission to several area public schools aside from our home campus. So we made lists, interrogated friends, visited several schools and checked achievement scores on the Internet. I resented all this choice, because when I was a kid everyone went to the neighborhood school and that was that. Now, we had to consider which public school had the least number of “complications,” which include increases in class size, severe changes in curriculum, deteriorating facilities, insufficient arts education and problems with finding childcare after because of kindergarten’s shortened hours.
Then the loads of private schools with stellar reputations beckoned to us. We considered a number of them, lured by good teacher-student ratios, graduates who went on to illustrious middle schools, and computer labs with setups to rival M.I.T. Still, we wanted our son to be surrounded by people of all walks of life and were afraid the high price tag would cost us even more in the stress of earning enough just to buy textbooks .
A Tough Choice
Through the months of research and contemplation, we realized how we were racing ahead to our child’s future rather than enjoying the daily wonder of his existence. We looked at him, thought about what kind of person he was at that time – a lover of learning, but a bit on the sensitive side for any place too big – and made our decision.
We chose a small parochial school with a superb reputation, great resources and lots of kids Benjamin knows to ease his way into the bigger world. While lots of people told us we were crazy to spend the money when he would probably be fine in public school – and perhaps they’re right – we were drawn to the security of a more intimate environment that matched our own learning philosophy. For us, the financial sacrifice will be worth it to give our son a big boost in these formative years of his education.
As is often the case, only time will tell whether we’ve made the right decision for Benjamin. One lesson we certainly learned was that, in the blink of an eye, little Jacob will also be graduating preschool. Another blink and Benjamin will leave elementary school. The “Circle Game” Joni Mitchell once sang about will play on. And the emotions I feel with each passage simply mean I am connected to the lives we are helping shape. Bring on the tears.
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