Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. ~Malcolm S. Forbes
“Are we going to be late? I don’t want to be late,” my son’s voice called from the back seat.
“No, sweetie, we won’t be late. We have plenty of time,” I responded quickly, with a slightly exasperated tone. He had already asked me about five times in as many minutes if we were going to be late. We had nearly 15 minutes to drive the one mile route from our house to school so there was little chance of a delayed arrival. I let up on the gas and slowed down in order to prolong our journey for just a few extra minutes.
Suddenly, I began to feel a strange tingling in my arms. With each block we drove, the feeling grew stronger. The strange sensations spread up to my neck, into my stomach, and landed in my face just behind my eyes.
Flummoxed by this sudden onslaught of physically-manifested emotion, I forced my mind to switch gears. I ran through my to-do list, thought of upcoming weekend plans, and focused on the car in front of me. Anything to forget the fact that I would soon be dropping my eldest child off at school for his first day of kindergarten.
This is only kindergarten, after all, I reasoned with myself. A mere three hours a day. It will give me more time to work on freelance writing projects, finish my manuscript, write on my blog, run errands, and maybe even read a book. A mere three hours a day.
So why was I feeling so thrown? Why was I feeling so vulnerable and emotionally raw? Why was I having such a hard time letting go?
On the one hand, kindergarten will merely be a brief interlude each afternoon, a couple hours in the day for him to learn and for me to work. But on the other hand, my son’s inauguration into the educational system is about so much more than the three hours a day that he will be away from home.
It is about the swift passage of time and the fact that we will never again have the freedom that we once had. Gone are the days when we could take an impromptu trip to visit out-of-state family, venture into the city to have lunch with friends, or spend an entire day lounging around in our pajamas. Our family’s free time will now be dictated by the school district, with vacations planned in conjunction with school holidays and visits to see out-of-state family and friends reserved for weekends.
But more than just a lament over the lack of freedom that comes with raising school-age children, my unease was about the fact that my son was now thrust into a whole new world – a world that isn’t always kind and in which I won’t always be able to protect him. School certainly brings a plethora of opportunities to learn, socialize, make friends, and expand pliable minds. But school also brings judgment and evaluation from students, teachers, and, of course, other parents.
And once a child walks through those big doors carrying his or her backpack and wearing new pants that are just a touch too big, there is no going back. The evaluations, judgments, and labels are inevitable. What begins with relatively benign descriptions such “interesting,” “outgoing,” or “friendly” can quickly morph into less benign or more limiting labels such as “nerdy,” “goofy,” “sporty,” and “gifted.” All of which run the risk of pigeon-holing children and limiting the expectations of themselves and others.
We drove on and the closer I got to my son’s new school, the more nervous and regretful I became. Where had the past six years gone? Why did it have to pass so quickly? And would the next six years and the six after that pass just as quickly?
How will I protect him? How will I keep him safe from the judgments, the hurt, and the disappointments?
My eyes shifted off the road momentarily, and in the rearview mirror, I caught a glimpse of my son. Dressed in his khakis and collared shirt, his face was filled with eagerness, optimism, and enthusiasm. His eyes jumped with excitement, not fear or apprehension. He was ambivalent to the potential challenges that lay ahead, and instead, was focused only on the opportunities that lay ahead.
His was a mind open to new possibilities and novel ideas; mine was the one fixated on what I was losing (time with my son, youth, and flexibility) and the potential roadblocks that lay ahead (homework, bullies, mean kids, smug parents, and self-fulfilling categorizations).
At that moment I realized that it was I who needed an education and not the kind that comes from standardized tests, spelling bees, and blackboards. But rather I – the grown-up, the parent, the adult – needed the kind of education that comes from opening one’s mind to possibilities and alternative perspectives, from choosing to assume best intentions and grant second chances, and from confidently acknowledging that the disappointments and hurts will happen but that we are resilient and capable enough to handle them.
We eventually arrived at school and my son raced to the front door, eager to join his friends in line and enter the threshold of learning. I watched him walk through the doors and I clutched the hand of my younger son. Suddenly, my little student was gone.
I turned and led my younger son back to the car, thankful for the distraction of a toddler. And thankful for the educational opportunities that are available to me each and every day. Heck, I had just learned a great deal about courage and optimism from my five-year-old son. I wonder what he and I will learn tomorrow.
I’m linking up again with Yeah Write Speakeasy – where bloggers write and writers blog.
Why don’t you check it out? There are some real gems this week.