Norah’s first two weeks of kindergarten were awful. We anticipated a challenging transition based on previous experiences with her starting something new, but we were not prepared for the level of struggle we ultimately confronted. Dance class is a solid example of the former. Norah is now participating weekly in her third edition of studio dance, each of which has begun with an anxiety infused performance of the masterpiece “I don’t want to do it” – sobbing, clinging, begging as though we were about to force her into a perpetual time-out, or some other version of child perceived hell. I’d like to make it clear that each time we’ve signed her up for dance it has been in response to her request for such, and only after we double, triple, quadruple checked that she really wanted to do it. But as was described here in one of the few posts I threw out last year, all is sunshine and rainbows when it comes to new things until just about the minute that said thing is slated to begin and she hits the wall of realization that the unknown is about to envelop her. So it went with kindergarten.
Unlike dance class, however, the panic performance had an unfortunate number of encores – nine to be exact. When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound too terrible, but living through it was exactly that (and worse). Drop off day one was fairly peachy. On day one there was no knowledge of the new life she was to lead five days a week. We were able to walk her into the room just like we had for several years at preschool, and the novel surroundings were familiar enough from the orientation we experienced a bit before. But then we left, and then all she had before known of school was pretty much overturned as she sat through not three but seven hours of rules and education, in full force as compared to a somewhat softer experience at her aptly named Playschool. So on day one when we picked her up, she wept.
Even then we attributed it to her being exhausted and we still did not foresee the crisis that was to ensue. The next morning, almost immediately upon waking her, the tears flowed again and then the begging began. “Please let me stay home. I don’t want to go to school. I don’t like school. I’m tired. I’m scared. I just want to be here with you. I miss you. I like my house. School is not fun.” and on, and on, and on. Drop off day two was dripping with drama, but at the very least we were still able to walk her into the room. Through tears we said goodbye, and a miserable me walked back to the car. Morning three, the same, and by the end of that first week I started to lose my shit. Sympathy and sadness turned into defeat and dismay, followed by anger, yelling, and my very own dramatic performance of “Scarah”. Depleted of patience and understanding, I was desperate for her to stabilize and settle into this new role, so each morning she cried, and each morning I reached peak rage, dropping her off with both of us in a horrible heap of stress, and then I wept my way to work.
Nine mornings. The entire first two weeks of her kindergarten career with the exception of that first day before we all knew. An eternity of negative emotions, with no ability to see our way to the other side. And then came Labor Day weekend. We got away, and we relaxed. We spoke about school and offered encouragement and support. We played and laughed and forgot about things that made us unhappy. We enjoyed time as a family and we did our best to find peace. And then upon returning home, and before heading back to school for week three, we introduced… the sticker chart (Gasp! Ooohh! Ahhh! Confetti!). Sure a long weekend in the mountains was fantastic for a lot of reasons, but that wasn’t the magic pill that kicked off our recovery from transition hell. Nope. I give majority credit to the sticker chart. Okay, yes, time was a factor, but not so much so as the promise of placing 1-2 gloriously enticing adhesive backed cutouts onto an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper lined with eager little boxes. “If we have a smooth, panic-free morning, and you help us to get you ready for school, you get a sticker.” Sold.
There were tentative moments where we teetered on the edge, but that looming reward always brought her feet back to the ground, and week three was an entirely different, better, more stable and enjoyable experience. Week four? “I like school! I like my teachers! I like my friends! I can’t wait to tell you about everything awesome that is my new life in kindergarten!” – sunshine, rainbows, fuzzy bunnies and all the happy things. The idea for the chart came from my boss who had used it for potty training with his son, so a HUGE thank you to him and a strong recommendation from me to you to give it a whirl if you find yourself in any situation where nothing else seems to be getting the results you so desperately seek with your little darlings. It may not work for everyone or everything, but it did for us, and thank goodness because another week of that would have lead me to drink (a lot) (more) (whatever, you get it).
Everything has been going smashingly since, and we love being a South Mebane Elementary family. This past Friday we attended the SME Valentine’s Dance and had a grand ‘ol time watching the younger Elders shake their booties to today’s top hits. I might have shaken mine a bit too, but kept it PG lest Principal Royal form a poor opinion of me. We’ve had the privilege and pleasure of participating in a few such events since settling in at SME, and each one is a happy reminder that even the most challenging changes are usually worth their weight. I’ve lots more to tell about our kindergarten experience and promise (hold me to it!!) to do so soon, but figured the beginning is always the best place to start.
Take care. S.