Thumper and I had our first experience with public school recently when the long-awaited registration day for kindergarten arrived. As we walked toward the front door, he said, "I can't wait to see what it's like inside! I can't wait! I can't wait!" I was thrilled to see him so excited, and I had for no reason whatsoever created the expectation that "registration" might be something more like "orientation," with perhaps a tour, or at least the opportunity to peek in on a classroom. As is often the case, my expectation had absolutely nothing to do with reality.
When we first walked into the office to find out what we were supposed to do, there was a contractor of some sort sitting in a chair waiting for something. Thumper asked him, "What are you doing?" and he responded facetiously, "I got in trouble, so I have to talk to the principal." Then the secretary (or whatever her title may have been) directed us to a tiny table in the hallway, and handed me a stack of paperwork to fill out. Thumper quickly realized that "registering for kindergarten" wasn't actually as exciting as he'd thought it would be, and he wandered back into the office.
"What did you do to get in trouble?" I heard him ask the contractor, who was still sitting in a chair, waiting. I didn't hear the contractor's answer, but I did hear Thumper's follow-up question: "What's a 'principal?'" Clearly he was curious about how things worked at school, and he was asking questions to find out. I thought it was perfectly acceptable and kept right on scrolling through my cell phone, looking for people to be emergency contacts.
Suddenly I heard the secretary call out in a ridiculous sing-song voice, "OK, honey, you need to stay with Daddy, OK?"
I was already less than 10 feet away from him, with only an open doorway between us. He wasn't touching anything. He wasn't interfering with anyone's work. He was having a conversation, as human beings are wont to do, trying to get more information about something that he knew was going to represent a big change in his life.
So I sighed, stepped into the office, and said, "Why don't you come sit out here with me, buddy?"
"Why?" he asked, reasonably enough.
"I don't know," I answered truthfully. "I guess she doesn't want you talking to anyone."
"Why?" he asked again.
"I don't know," I said again.
He moped quietly enough the rest of the time it took me to fill out paperwork. When I turned it in, I was given a DVD called "Preparing for Kindergarten." I showed it to him and said, "Hey, look! We should watch this when we get home so we know how to get ready for school!" I tried to sound excited.
"No thanks," he said. "It might be boring."
And that was the end of registration. No opportunity to wander around and check out the school. No chance to look in at a classroom and see what the kids were doing. He was mightily disappointed, and so was I.
And that's when I realized that school is going to be as much of a challenge for me as it will be for him. I suppose I shouldn't extrapolate too far from a brief encounter with an administrative employee to what the classroom experience will be like for him, but I am very much afraid that school is going to be about discouraging creativity and silencing questions. I don't think that he will have trouble with the coursework, but I fear that he will have trouble not talking, not interrupting the teacher to ask an endless series of questions, as he very often does.
I suspect that I, much as my father did to my horror many years ago, will repeatedly ask, "Do you want me to go down there and talk to them?"
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