Tag Archives: kindergarten

Grandchildren Start Their School Adventures


Nikayla waters my gardens on Aug. 18. On Aug. 20, she starts kindergarten.

Nikayla waters my gardens on Aug. 18. On Aug. 20, she starts kindergarten.

I don’t recall my kindergarten experience very well, except that I know it was cut short. Near the end of the school year, we moved from one California town to another, and I didn’t finish my kindergarten year.

I sometimes have dreams about that. You know how, years after college, you sometimes dream of the class you forgot you were enrolled in but you have to go take the final exam? My kindergarten dream is a bit like that, except I’m an adult who is required to sit on a floor with a bunch of 5-year-olds and a pair of blunt, short scissors, trying to do some kindergarten-style art. (Despite being a creative lefty, I pretty consistently sucked at every academic art experience, which must be why the dream always goes for that subject). In the dream, my master’s degree is in danger of being revoked if I don’t finish the K year.

Let’s hope it comes true.

Anyway, my oldest granddaughter is about to embark upon kindergarten. Nikayla begins her formal school education on Tuesday. The next oldest, Elizabeth, who lives in England, will be starting school soon too, because their system is different and schooling begins earlier. Anyway, what advice would I have for Nikayla or Elizabeth as they start their school journey?

Like I know. I was such a great elementary school pupil. That, kids, is called “sarcasm,” but I think it’s so deeply embedded in your genes you’ll master that genre pretty early. Anyway:

  • Minimize the times you’re a bully. I would say “never be a bully,” but in the simian world of school, sometimes you’re the victim, sometimes you’re the alpha kid. Social interaction among great apes inevitably involves a certain amount of threat display, and despite what some misguided religious fundamentalists might tell you, yes, we’re a branch of the ape family. Remember what it feels like when you’re on the receiving end and try to restrain when it’s your time to dish it out.
  • Don’t take criticism too seriously. Listen to feedback, but don’t let anybody define who you are and what you can do. So what if the current “it girl” in second grade, or whatever, doesn’t like your singing? Even a bigger deal, so what if your second grade teacher doesn’t like your singing? It’s too easy, and it happened sometimes to all of us, to shut a door and decide you “can’t” do something because of some cruel remark. Cultivate the mental ability to get over it and get on with it.
  • Do your best to read. A lot of the school books—especially for subjects like social studies or science that will cover intrinsically fascinating material in the dullest possible way—seem designed to convince you that reading is a bad idea. Too many kids learn that lesson. But the aptitude to read well is the single biggest separator between the academic achievers who will go on to graduate school and the checkout clerks at discount stores—the ability to absorb the complex experience of humankind accumulated over thousands of years in written form is the key to your future regardless of your life path. In today’s instant world, it’s more important than ever to be a reader. The post literate universe belongs to the readers.
  • Don’t get too lost in reading. Play a sport, even if you’re terrible, for a while. Go out and climb something at recess. Go ahead and play Barbie. Reading is the most fundamental of academic skills, but it can also be such a consuming passion that you forget how to ride a bicycle. I urge you to be a reader, but I urge you to be other things, too. Balance in everything. Even reading can get to be too much.
  • Don’t fret the small stuff. It’s possible the principal’s kid will win an academic contest through fraud. It’s possible you’ll do something original and cool in a science fair competition and your teacher will be too dense to understand it—your uncle Jon once wrote encryption software for a middle school science fair. At least one judge recognized it as actual original work, but his teacher did not. He became a programmer at the world’s leading software company. She didn’t … in the long run, the small stuff doesn’t matter, and pretty much everything that happens before your high school graduation is small stuff.
  • Don’t avoid school. I developed a habit during elementary school of having vague gastronomic symptoms that often kept me home to watch reruns of “Andy Griffith” rather than going to school. The irony, of course, is that in my adult life my digestive tract has caused me virtually no problems at all. I’m sure part of it was I was just extremely bored with school, but part of it was I also excelled at being lazy. School is there whether you’re there or not, and despite the social embarrassments and difficult peers, you’ll get more out of it if you’re there.
  • Don’t suffer in silence. If somebody really gets serious about picking on you, and threatens to make it worse if you tell, TELL. It won’t always solve the problem and certainly won’t solve the problem immediately, but if someone tries to threaten you into silence, it means that their nightmare is you won’t remain silent. Give them the opportunity to live out their nightmare.

Most of all, you’ll have teachers good and teachers bad, peers who are scholars and peers who are training for a life with a parole officer, opportunities to define yourself and risks that others will define you. It’s 95 percent guaranteed that you’ll emerge years from now with, on balance, an overall positive experience from your educational journey.

But it’s not 100 percent guaranteed. And it’s more than 95 percent guaranteed that there will be some bumps along the road. The only sure thing you can control is your own attitude towards the whole experience. I think both Nikayla and Elizabeth have pretty good attitudes towards life in general, and that’s a good sign.  Anyway, be a little skeptical—don’t buy every idea on the first try—but smile and enjoy yourself, too.

And laugh. That I can 100 percent guarantee. There will be plenty to laugh about.

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An Open Letter To Summer 2013


Aug. 14, 2013, Nikayla, at the park, last big play day before her grandparent's start another school year and she starts her first.

Aug. 14, 2013, Nikayla, at the park, last big play day before her grandparents start another school year and she starts her first.

Dear Summer,

Thanks for being here, but honestly, to me, you’re over. True, it’s only Aug. 14, and the equinox isn’t until late September, but the angle of our planet is only one way to measure the changing of the seasons. In my life, which will be filled with school from now on, you’ve come to your close, Summer 2013.

Today was the last hurrah of you. I woke up early for no good reason at all—unless I was anticipating the events of the day, which is possible, and ended up at the gym around 5 a.m. After a workout and a shower, it was time for my wife, my youngest son and me to meet Katy and her family at Riley’s a neighborhood family restaurant.

The breakfast there, my first at that eatery, was actually quite good. My “Spanish” omelet had salsa and guacamole toppings, so it seemed more Tex Mex than Old World, but it was still tasty. The pancake cost a bit extra as a side, and it felt a bit weird to pay extra to get just one pancake, until the huge disk of griddled batter arrived. It must have been close to 10 inches in diameter. I wondered how they flipped it. Like the omelet, it tasted good.

After breakfast, we walked home, three grandkids in tow. The plan was for my spouse to have a girl’s morning out with Nikayla and Amelia, while Ben and I did boy things with Tristan. Because of an appointment Ben had, the boys’ morning ended up being just me and Mr. T, but that was OK. I put the toddler seat on my bike, figuring that this morning would be Tristan’s official last ride. He’s not too heavy for the seat, but is getting way too tall.

We had a nice trip. We headed east towards the Boyson Trail, and paused at a bridge to watch fish in the stream. Then we headed west. Tristan informed me several times that he prefers trails to streets, and luckily we did some trail riding, but mostly it was quiet residential streets. At 10:20, Audrey called to remind me of a music program at the Hiawatha Library, so we ended up meeting the girls there.

After that, it was playtime at Tucker Park, then lunch at home, then naps and finally a very fine supper that Katy came over and cooked for us.

It was your last blowout, Summer, and it was fun. It featured Tristan helping me to water our new trees in back, a process that left him happy and soaking wet. That, Summer, is one of the things you were good for—good, dirty play in the backyard involving grandchildren.

What else happened in you, Summer 2013?

  • I spent three weeks in South America. In June, Audrey and I visited our son Jon and his wife Nalena in Paraguay. It was an exciting adventure.
  • I rode my third RAGBRAI. This time, it was in a family group that my two sisters and brother-in-law named “Team Joe.” My daughter Amanda supplied a very cool shirt design, the weather cooperated, and it was a great week.
  • I planted some new trees. Which I know I didn’t “need,” but what the heck. They were so cheap (we invested $5 and got, basically, $200 worth of trees) that it would have felt wrong to pass them up. And it was those trees Mr. T and I watered today.

Summer 2013, you started off cool and wet, with flooding threatening. Now, you’re cool and dry. We humans depend on growing things more than we like to admit, and some wet and warm before the first frost arrives would be very much appreciated, if you could arrange it.

Not everything in you was great. I had a nasty rash for a time and am still battling a wart that appeared this summer.

At my place of employment, some unexpected changes took place suddenly right when you were born, Summer 2013, and my professional life in the new season will no doubt be made more interesting as a result. Even more shocking, a faculty colleague at MMU died during you. I know that people die every day, but it’s a blow when it comes at you from out of the blue.

Still, taken as a whole, Summer 2013, you were pretty good to me. But, you are no doubt a bigger season in some others’ lives, for better or worse. You’re the first summer that Brigid and Eldon and Cate rode a full RAGBRAI, which I think and hope was a highlight for them. You were the last summer before granddaughter Nikayla enters the public educational system, and let’s hope that she’ll have fond memories of you and a good kindergarten year.

I suppose most seasons are what we make of them. Of course, fate often takes a hand, and we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too much for a time we enjoy when we don’t know what the next season will bring, but all in all, I could use more summers like you, 2013. Let future summers in on that, would you please?

And, thanks for being you. I’m already missing you. Now that, to me, you’re gone.

Yours,
Joe

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