Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Take this screaming kid! How survival expediency drives school-going--years too far

Anyone who has tried calling me at 7:30am knows this is the impossible hour. I’m a completely different person: 
Me, 8:30am
frazzled, pleading, exhausted, confused. By the time I’ve got our screaming, publicly-undressing 5-year-old to the door of her kindergarten, it’s with a certain relief that I make that last push into the arms of her teacher and let the door slam. Bang! And then I breathe. Cause I’ve got eight hours.

If you don’t have children, you can keep sipping your caramel macchiato and judging. If you have any, you know what I’m talking about. By kid #5, my brain is so fried that I can’t remember when this started or if it’s getting any easier.

As when she’s asleep, when Bina is at school, she is angelic. The teacher sends WhatsApp pictures of her and the other children peeling cucumbers, gluing dried leaves, or celebrating a birthday. I feel a rush of warmth as I forward to husband and in-laws. By some miracle she changes her own clothes, washes her own hands, and takes naps on cue with other kids. And when I show up again at pick-up time, she is a completely transformed little person, regaling me with lessons
Tender angelic moments.
about covering my cough, where our food goes and how eyeballs work as we walk home together. School--and that brief intermission of sleep she allows me each night--is the reason why our few hours together are so precious.

When it comes to packing-up small children and restoring sanity, I hear you! I read with awe the posts on groups like Christian Mothers of Large Families that Homeschool and Thrifty Homeschoolers about moms who juggle 8+ small children for entire days of meals, bathing, lessons, activities, and pediatric appointments. I wonder if the children are actors, or if the mothers live on Red Bull. My husband used to wear ear protection in alternating ears at home when the kids were smaller, I guess protecting equally crappy hearing on both sides.

With the exception of those maternal endurance-athletes, most of us live in a state of near-collapse and mental decay that requires small children to be somewhere else for some hours of the day. We love them more that way. We also shower, earn money, respond to messages, and (we think) restore that spark that created those kids in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, homeschoolers-extraordinaire, my hats are off to you. I read about you with my twitching eye and scrambled brain, in the eight hours of solace while Bina is at school.

School is the warmed foil tray coming down the aisle. The four subsections of mild, brown-and-beige gruel for which we expectantly lower our tray-tables and stare impatiently at the cart.
Just enjoy. 
It’s not any one thing we’re hungry for, but it’s the reassurance that it’s all there, the warm, total package. And in rich countries, school takes care of it all. Transport, supervision, meals, toilets, behavior-management. That’s an irresistible package.

But what if we’re getting hooked on the airplane meal-tray? What if as parents, we’re so lulled and satisfied by the all-in-one package that we’re missing cues from our children that things really could be a lot better? Or what if we are programming our children through our own choices to expect that education is an inevitable daily routine as dull as re-warmed potatoes and gravy?

When would we be ready to live with our kids’ own choices about how and what they learn? At 8? 10? 12? I’m not offering any guidance here, just uneasiness that it seems we’ve pushed it back to after 20. Our kids can already vote, marry and enlist before most of us have given any leeway for choice about how they spend their time.

Why is that? As our kids become pre-teens and teens, I think our early parenting excuses become a cover. What if he wants to work part-time and study online? What if she wants to only read and paint? What if he spends three months coding competitively? What if she wants to only volunteer and take dance classes this spring? I don’t want to think about it, and This is one more headache, are how we appropriate our teen’s own risk-taking, dreams and plans to ourselves, revert to our 5-year-old-management model, and slam it behind a door. Bang! Cause it’s a lot easier that way.

There’s a more troubling explanation, too. Maybe we’re afraid of what our kids are made of. If we took away structure, routines, and minute-by-minute ordering of things, maybe they are horrible people. Maybe they would hurt others, or themselves. Or maybe they are apathetic lumps whom we would find in the same place on the couch at 6pm, where we left them at 8am. No principal would start a commencement address this way, but really, isn’t the whole industry of kid-management built on this Hobbesian premise? If not, then why bells? Why seating charts, three strikes, and cumulative grading? Our certainty about this comes from something deeper: We were broken, so they should be broken, too.

I know that I am broken. I’m scrambled and confused, and I stutter when I’m nervous. My kids had something to do with that. I love them and don’t mind the judgmental glances at 8am. I am still taking my youngest to kindergarten and look forward to our walks home. At some point, this arrangement, too, will give way to something messier, louder and less certain. I've got to let her do it, and won't have any door to hide behind. 

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