When my now 10-year-old son was in preschool, #HusbandWTF and I had many a debate regarding when the child would start kindergarten. As a late July birthday boy, I was on team Red-shirt, but my husband wasn’t so sure. So I did what any sane mama does and interviewed every parent and educator within a 30-mile radius. Most of the teachers told me to hold him another year. Most of the other parents told me to hold him another year. Specifically, most of the other moms told me to trust my “mom gut.”
And by “gut,” they weren’t referring to the post-baby pouch hanging over my jeans. I asked.
Apparently my husband’s “dad gut” wasn’t telling him anything, and that’s when I realized if anyone was going to overthink things to death, it would have to be me. Fortunately, I was up for the task (and for many nights…). Ultimately we decided to keep our son in preschool for an extra year.
Kindergarten turned out to be a little messy and I’m not talking about all the glue. Though the teacher was as fabulous as they come, there was a student in the class who simply couldn’t control herself. Sweet little thing struggled with learning and behavioral issues that impacted the rest of the class, so much so, that the other students were often escorted out of the room for their safety. After one of these full-evacuation days, my son’s teacher contacted me regarding his incessant use of the restroom. She was afraid he was sick or maybe had a UTI.
After a thorough medical examination and several panicked Google searches, my kid was cleared of any physical ailments. He finally admitted that the class-clearing “drills,” as he came to call them, left him extremely anxious. I mean, he was six so he didn’t articulate in that exact way. I believe he said something like, “I know so-and-so is going to get angry so I want to leave.” The kid was asking to use the restroom as a means to remove himself from a stressful situation.
His approach to conflict-resolution reassured me we had made the right decision to red-shirt him from kindergarten. Instead of melting down like he would have the year prior, he found a self-preservation work-around. Fast forward a few years and here we are in the fourth grade, and my kid continues to be somewhat shy, quietly observing the world around him, and avoiding conflict at all costs.
It’s those very characteristics that made me go YOU DID WHAT? when his sister informed us he had tried out for the lead in his fourth grade musical. Yes, his sister told us because why would he? Sigh.
My son has never liked being the center of attention; he keeps his silly hidden for a select few of us. Normally, we would describe him as all business and no show, like his father. But this child, the same who lip-synced his entire preschool graduation, refused to dance with me at a wedding, and has never said anything positive about his music class tried out for the lead in the school’s musical. The very musical all the other kids at school would watch. The musical that all the teachers would see, the musical to which all the families would be invited.
When I asked him what made him want to step outside of his comfort zone in such an impressive way, he shrugged, as tweenagers do, and just said, “I wanted to.”
He didn’t get the lead role, but was elated when his good friend did. My son was assigned a supporting role and tomorrow on a stage in front of hundreds, he will hopefully deliver his few lines with confidence.
When the show is over and we shower him with love, I hope he remembers how exhilarating it feels to take a chance, to try something new. I pray he recalls this first with the kind of fondness that encourages him to continue putting himself out there. I cross my fingers and toes that the fear of failure is never so great that it stands in the way of an honest attempt.
I know he’s growing up and soon we’ll have peer pressure and ego to deal with. Soon enough, his stories will be locked away and not mine to tell. But until then, and with his permission, I’ll keep swooning over the ways he amazes us. I might even take a second to pat myself on the back because I firmly believe the decision to give him an extra year with low-stakes, three-day-a-week preschool prepared him emotionally and socially for the rigors of full-day kindergarten.
And at the end of the day–and the musical–I have to give props to his new music teacher because there is no doubt that man is what made a difference for my son. So to those who want to cut funding to our music and arts programs, I have this to say: you’re stealing opportunities for growth from our children. From kids like my son who are only now learning about the confidence it takes and makes to be on stage, about the buzz of excitement before a performance. My son’s music teacher has cultivated a classroom environment that’s welcoming and safe, which is why kids feel like they can take a chance without fear of judgement. These things are important in every classroom, but they don’t all lend themselves to creativity and confidence the way the arts do.
Here’s another back pat to my son’s music teacher and to everyone who continues to support the arts in our schools. It all makes a difference, and it makes this mama’s heart smile.