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Sending a child into the world marked by dread and hope Nancy Alvarado | Sat, Mar 21 2015 12:00 PM

When my daughter marched off on her first day of kindergarten in her crisp white blouse and new blue jumper, with her ponytails tightly fastened and a gap-toothed smile across her face, I was filled with pride.

I knew I’d done a good job preparing her for school. As the eldest child, she had the benefit of attention. I’d read to her since birth, and spent hours poring over chalkboards and sand trays and magnetic letters, mastering first syllables and then words.

Our trips to the grocery store were teachable moments during which we practiced counting or adding. She spoke in clear complete sentences with the diction of a miniature teacher. What teacher wouldn’t want such a school-ready child in her class? High test scores practically emanated from her pores.

Dropping her at the door of room 2, doubt edged in. She didn’t speak English yet. She didn’t know how to tie her shoes. Watching her interact with her little brother, it seemed clear I’d forgotten to teach her to share or take turns. Would she drive her teacher crazy with her endless stream of questions and comments? Had I done her a disservice allowing her to believe that her every thought, drawing or scribble was of great value?

What if other children didn’t like her? My success or failure as a parent would be confirmed by the ease with which she navigated kindergarten, it seemed.  I kissed her and gave a weak wave as she walked through the door into a brand-new world.

Nothing makes you doubt yourself as much as sending your child out into the world.

We want the world to embrace our children. We pray they avoid whatever disasters befell us in elementary school and beyond.

No one wants their son to be remembered as the one who threw up during circle time in kindergarten or their daughter to be the child who pulls the fire alarm because it’s shiny and red and interesting. Instead, we expect student of the month certificates to post on our refrigerator doors.

We fervently hope our children will be pretty, popular, smart, athletic and reasonably well-behaved. We crave these things because they will confirm for us that yes, in fact, we are good parents.

My daughter survived kindergarten, never threw up during circle time, eventually learned to speak English, and hasn’t driven her teachers too crazy with her questions. She will graduate from high school this spring and head off to college in the fall.

Applying for college is a nerve-wracking procedure that makes me long for the days of kindergarten, when anyone who showed up with the right paperwork was accepted.

A college applicant today has to have an outstanding GPA, a variety of extra-curricular activities and countless hours of community service.

Every college application is accompanied by a hefty fee and some parental soul-searching. Were speech, dance and drama good choices for extra-curricular activities? Should she have played a sport instead? Why didn’t I pay for that

SAT prep class? Are her grades good enough? What if she doesn’t get accepted anywhere?

Nothing makes you doubt yourself as much as sending your child out into the world.

As the college acceptance letters trickle in, I begin to breathe a sigh of relief. I know that in a few short months I’ll be sending her somewhere. When I help her move into her dorm room, her pigtails and jumper will have been replaced by a fashion sense I grudgingly admit isn’t too bad and makeup which probably originally belonged to me.

I’ll be filled with the same mix of pride and terror. I want to believe I’ve done as good a job preparing her for adulthood as I did for kindergarten. She has certificates and awards testifying to her success as a student.  However, the stakes are higher for the leap to adulthood than they were for the leap to kindergarten. She’ll be expected to navigate not just grades and test scores, but time management, budgeting, nutrition and personal safety.  She’ll need wisdom about dating and about drinking. She’ll need to remember to set her alarm clock without being told and to avoid washing red socks with white blouses.

We want adulthood to be kind to our children. We pray for an easy transition, hoping they avoid the worst kinds of disasters, the ones with irrevocable consequences.

We won’t get any more student of the month certificates to post on the refrigerator, but we’ll know we’ve done our jobs well when we see our once-eager kindergartners become adults who are kind, moral, comfortable in their own skins, good at something they love and able to make a living.

Nothing fills you with hope as much as sending your child out into the world. 

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Nancy Alvarado Says:

Sat, Jan 23 2016 07:38 PM

Thank you, Melody! Your assessment of me in both areas is very kind.

Melody Nolan Says:

Sat, Mar 21 2015 03:46 PM

Nancy, the fact that you chose this subject for your article proves that you are a success as a parent -- and a writer!
~ Melody

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