By Jae-Ha Kim
February 11, 2012
All parents have those days when they fantasize about getting their kids out of the house. But when it actually happens, it’s often a bittersweet moment.
My 3-1/2 year old son started preschool this week. He didn’t want to go. I know this because he said, “I don’t want to go.” While part of him was intrigued by the idea of attending school like some of his friends, the cling-on part of him didn’t want to go anywhere if he couldn’t be with me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that my son enjoys my company so much now, because I know it’s just a matter of a few short years before I morph from his “lucky girl” — who he insists he’s going to marry one day — into the embarrassingly unhip mom he’ll want to hide from his friends. For right now, however, I’m his be-all, end-all.
But I also know that he’s a very curious, smart and active child. And my level of energy and creativity isn’t enough to keep him challenged anymore. It was time to turn him over to the professionals who can work magic with glue sticks and keep the kid intrigued for a couple hours.
Friends joked that the early hours would do us all in, because we are not a family of early risers. But as with everything in his short life, Kyle adapted beautifully. He woke up at 7 instead of 8:30 without so much as a whimper, ate his breakfast and got dresssed for school. Slinging his backpack over his jacket, he looked ready to tackle the day. He also looked very tiny and a little apprehensive.
When we got to the dropoff area, one of the student teachers came and got Kyle out of his car seat. He solemnly said goodbye to me, held her hand and walked away, turning around every now and again to look for me and my car.
That’s when I lost it. Crouching down in my seat so that he wouldn’t see me cry, I choked out loud sobs that surprised me. I thought about the first time we saw him in Korea, when he was still a baby. I cried for all the losses he’d already suffered before his first bithday — leaving behind both his birth mother and foster family. I cried for the 2-1/2 years that we had together where the days, at times, seemed tortuously long, but now were flashing by at a speed that startled me. I thought about what it would be like when he went off to college. And I hoped that I wouldn’t die before he grew up to be a man.
Clearly, I was having a melodramatic moment.
But in the back of my mind, I was worried that my happy little boy would learn about prejudice in school. Kids repeat what they learn at home. And I know firsthand that it’s not always nice. I hoped that no one would make “chinky eyes” at him, even as a joke. Or call him names. Or ask why he had no pupils.
I was just a year older than Kyle when I started kindergarten. I was newly immigrated to the United States and couldn’t speak any English. As the only minority member in my class, I stood out. Kids had never seen anyone who looked like me and weren’t sure what to make of the little girl with black hair, a home perm, dark eyes and a funny speech pattern.
Knowing that all children love sweets, my mother sent me off to school with bags of M&M’s and Oreo cookies to share with the kids. She told me later that she used to watch from a distance as I passed out the treats at recess, hoping somebody would play with me. It must’ve broken her heart to see them accept the candy, but not me.
Of course, this is just one memory. And it wasn’t long before I made friends, was invited to parties and became a “normal” American girl.
But those memories of loneliness and wanting to belong — that’s what I was thinking about as I snuck into the observation room to check in on him. I asked the co-teacher how he was doing. And I asked if he had cried. She said he seemed a little shy at first, but didn’t cry. He found his name on his cubby, hung up his coat and backpack and joined in the fun. I could see him raising his hand to answer his teacher’s questions. And I saw that he was being well taken care of. So I left.
For the first time in two years, I had some free time to kill. I had columns to work on and research that needed to be done. I was sleep deprived and could’ve used a nap. But all I wanted to do was cuddle my little boy.
When I picked Kyle up from school a couple hours later, I asked his teacher if he got upset. (“No.”) If he played well. (“Very well.”) If he got along with others. (“Yes. He’s incredibly polite and well mannered!” Who knew?!)
I asked my son what he thought about his first day of school. He smiled and said, “I love it, Mommy!” According to his teacher, Kyle had not only made new friends, but he was a leader in his class already. He introduced himself to the other children, asking, “What’s your name?” She laughed as she described him holding court before his minions, explaining how you make blueberry pancakes.
Of course, he’s 3-1/2 years old and changes his mind. Often. The next day, he said he didn’t want to go to school. But he did. And he did great.
I still have my worries. I wouldn’t be me without them. But Kyle? He’s just fine.
© 2012 JAE-HA KIM
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