So here we are. My first baby has started kindergarten. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as emotional as I’d expected to be on the first day. Sure, I got a little sniffly when I watched her reunite with her preschool buddies– just yesterday they were babies together. But when it came time to send Pearl off to her classroom I was too happy to cry. She’s wanted this for so long. She’s ready.
With a quick kiss she ran off before my tears had a chance to drop.
After school, I asked how the first day went. Her response was, “I don’t know… but we had recess!” Each day she shares a little bit more. Usually the factoids are delivered with, “Mommy did you know that….” One day it was “gorillas are our cousins!” Another day it was, “air makes you float!” But Thursday I was jarred by her announcement. “Mommy, if you bring a gun to school you get sent to the principal’s office.”
One week in, folks.
Until this moment I had never heard her use the word “gun” in this context. Bubble guns have always been called bubble blowers, and around here a “shooting” is an everyday event where actors perform on camera. Daddy might refer to his muscles as guns (and we all laugh), but we’ve never talked about actual weapons. Never had to.
When I toured the kindergarten last year I had one question for the principal: “What can you tell me about security here?” Her answer was standard: this school is very safe… guests get buzzed in… visitors must wear badges… the door is always locked etc. etc. I felt a little silly for even asking.
Two days later Newtown happened.
I asked Pearl for more details regarding the gun talk. What precipitated it? Apparently some boys were playing “shooters” with finger guns and they were reprimanded. A discussion about the seriousness of guns, real and pretend, and the consequences of playing with them followed.
So here we are. Kindergarten.
The next morning at drop off my mood was different. No longer in the cocoon of preschool I looked around suspiciously at the unfamiliar adults on the yard. I wondered if anyone was among them who shouldn’t be. I wondered if any of them were gun owners and if any of them were stupid enough to leave one within a child’s reach. After the bell, I spent about fifteen minutes with my potty-training 2-year-old in the restroom. As we were leaving, we walked out the front of the school. The door? Wide open. Fifteen minutes after the second bell the front door was wide open. What happened to “this school is very safe?” I wanted to scream, “I am the woman who asked about security and was placated. THEN look what happened. Somebody shut the goddamn door!”
All of a sudden I realized I’d been in denial. The preschool at our Jewish synagogue is locked down. Gates, security guards, passwords… safety is never an issue. The sad reality is that the Jewish people are used to protecting themselves from terror. Do public schools have what it takes?
And what about the parents? In my parenting class while discussing the transition into kindergarten we wondered what it would be like to set up playdates for our kids with new families we’d never met. Our parenting educator looked at us sympathetically and said, among other things, “You’re going to have to ask about safety. Is there a pool? Who will be home? Are there guns in the house…?” I couldn’t imagine myself asking that last question back then, but here I was about to send Pearl on her first kindergarten playdate. I knew the mom, but not well. I had never been to their house. It felt awkward to ask, and I even apologized for my “annoying” question. Fortunately she wasn’t annoyed at all. Her answer: No guns. Just a fenced in pool.
So here we are. Kindergarten. Literally, the “children’s garden.” A place for our little ones to grow and flourish. I will admit, part of me was hoping that when school started I’d be able to take some time off. You know, just kinda check out– let the school tend to the garden. I’ve worked hard the past five years, isn’t it time for a break?
OK, Parents of Older Children– I hear you snicker. I get it now. We never stop working and it only gets harder. It takes a great deal of energy to tend to our children’s garden. To prepare our kids for a world in which bad things happen we have to be smart, aware and involved.
Our children will inevitably lose their innocence, but we’re losing ours too.
Pass the Kleenex, please.