A couple of years ago, my wife and I were in the classic push-or-hold kindergarten dilemma about our elder son, who wouldn’t be five till November. First, we were going to hold him. (Dash had started preschool a year later than most kids, and we weren’t sure he was ready socially.) By midsummer, we’d decided to send him after all. (He was socializing well with kids his age in day camp, and the elementary school’s principal was encouraging after she met him.) But one week into the school year, we were back to holding. (His kindergarten teacher gently and kindly informed us she didn’t think he was ready after all.)
Of course, we were devastated about taking him out of kindergarten: We’d taken all the “first school bus” photos and everything, and he had seemed so excited about it all. But once we realized he was pretty much fine with going back to his friends in his preschool class and coming back to kindergarten next year—in other words, as with so many parenting traumas, this was far more about our emotions than his—I began to feel kind of pleased with myself.
After all, I reasoned, now we wouldn’t have to second-guess ourselves. We’d explored the options and come to the best option for him: Now we knew we were doing the right thing. Had we not given him the one week in kindergarten, we would have spent the whole school year wondering if he should be there, if we were holding back a kid who reads well over nothing. But we’d done the right thing. We could stop worrying and relax.
And for several months, everything was smooth. Until early January, that is—when our son told us casually that he didn’t want to go back to preschool after the holiday break. He was bored, he said.
After a moment of mutual internal screams, we called up Dash’s preschool teacher. She was receptive, and we spoke with her about focusing on some of the things he wasn’t so proficient at yet (say, writing as opposed to reading). We also signed him up for some kiddie martial-arts classes on the weekends, theoretically to give his brain something new and different to focus on. He soon seemed happy again, and less bored. Smoothness was, for the moment, restored.
Now, I try to accept this fact about parenting: It’s not ever going to be a realm of certitude. I’ll never know for sure if we did the right thing moving our family from Brooklyn to the suburbs a few years ago, or letting our kids watch Monsters vs. Aliens enough times to have most of the dialogue memorized (including everything in all the special features). Or pulling Dash from kindergarten; although he’s presently thriving in his real tour through that grade level, it’s impossible to imagine—especially knowing us—that we won’t find reasons to doubt this decision multiple times over the remainder of his school years. We’ll always be second-guessing. Even when he and his younger brother are all grown up.
Photos: Whitney Webster