My first-born son is in Kindergarten. This has been a bit of a tough transition for us as a family is some respects. For starters, he only has 20-25 minutes to eat his breakfast. Do you have any idea how hard that is for a kid who spends 85% of his meal time talking? I do. Just sayin'.
We have to pack lunches, go to parent meetings, sign up for committees, and figure out how to handle birthday party treats. When it's a kid's birthday in his class, their parents will bring some kind of a treat for the class at the end of the day. Well, when your kid can't have wheat or dairy without getting seriously bound up and suffer some pretty intense gas pains, it puts a whole new spin on a simple cupcake. We (and by this I basically mean Ginny) have to be at his school by 7:25 am and 3:45 pm...like, EVERY day! As if it wasn't hard enough to have kids and socialize. It's always been, "Sure, we'd love to come over! We just have to leave by 6:30 to get home to start the bedtime process, which takes longer because he spends 85% of his time talking." Now it has become, "We can be there for 15 minutes at 4:45."
He's also started what I'm sure will be a life-long tradition of not giving us any information about his day. Even when I know what he's done that day and ask leading questions?
"What'd you do in school today?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what did you study?"
"I don't know."
"Did you learn any letters?"
"I don't remember."
"Did you learn the letter A?"
"Oh, yea! We did."
"Did you sing a song about it?"
"I don't know."
"Did it go like this?" [I sing the song]
"I don't remember."
I'm not vocationally an academic achievement assessor, but I will say that I'm not sure that counts as learning.
The biggest thing we're dealing with is that our education system was developed during the industrial revolution, and the conveyor belt style of universal and uniform information dissemination into quiet and seated children is heralded as the only way to teach. Now, if any of you have boys that have any kind of personality at all you will know, as I do, that they are basically puppies. They have feet that are too big for their bodies, they have two speeds: the speed of sound and off, they need to be hosed off fairly frequently, and if you don't take them out for a walk/run every single day they will eat your newspaper and throw up in your shoes. And while this may only be a slight exaggeration it stands to reason that little boys are not meant to sit for 8 hours a day in a large group and get told what to do. I know of only a handful of adult males who can handle that, and I am certainly not one of them. So the notion that they will be able to keep their hands to themselves, keep quiet, and never talk out of turn for an entire day is on the outskirts of ludicrous. Then to punish these boys by moving their peg down on the behavior board for simply being boys is maddening. Also, I've never been so emotionally swayed by a clothespin on construction paper in my life.
Since he started school nearly a month ago, I can count on two fingers the number of days that he hasn't had a net loss on the behavior chart for the day. He's wrestled with the, "I'm a bad kid," feeling--a notion which we have brutally murdered immediately. This is a label that any kid can quickly grow into, and I'm not about to have the kind of self-fulfilling-prophecy bull-roar take over my kid. We've had a teacher conference and my wife's observing tomorrow to see what the deal is. To his teacher's credit, she has over 20 kids and no aide and no parents allowed in the classroom to help. I've heard from a credible source that kids learn best in a group the size of their age plus one, so for kindergarteners 6-7 kids per group would be optimal. So we can say that at least some of their conditions are sub-optimal. But she also seems to want to stick to this whole notion that they are 6 now and should be ready to follow all the rules, all the time all day long. Also, they should get jobs, pay taxes, and make their own meals. We're going to continue to work with his teacher and the school for now, but we are also keeping an open mind. Maybe we'll homeschool him for a few years. Maybe we'll apprentice him to a cobbler and he can learn to make shoes and then open up his own shop when he turns 14. Just spitballin' here. There are no bad ideas.
Here's where I'm heading with this, though. Through all this, my son still really like his teacher. He still loves his school and to see the fervor with which he puts on his own uniform in the morning is unmatched in our home. He's learning new words, new songs, and all kinds of cool stuff. Just the other day in Target he turned to me and said in the most sincere and earnest voice I've ever heard from him, "Dad, it'd be my honor to check out the Lego aisle."
I'll bet it would. I love you.
He is punished for behavior that is outside what could be reasonably expected of him. He's made to feel inferior to other kids just because of his approach, when he's finished doing worksheets before the teacher is even done explaining them to the other docile idiots in the class. How unfair is that! But his joie de vivre perseveres in the face of injustice! He still loves school, and happily showed us his handiwork at his open house. He says good thing about his teacher and his, "best silly dude, Jude." He doesn't like to talk about moving his peg down, but he isn't depressed. He doesn't drown his own self-disappointment in Ben and Jerry's. It'd just bind him up anyway! By the end of each day he's taken his lumps and disappointments, but has moved forward with the same passion for life that he started his day with. I hope Kindergarten doesn't beat that out of him. I wish I had learned that. Every day he teaches me something new. I'm still smarter and possess a slightly greater command of my bowels, but I can take notes about how amazing it is to find just the right Lego, or to eat a pancake, or to even be able to dress myself. LOTS of people can't do that.
Thanks, Ben, for once again showing me how to do life better.
I can only speak to my own personal experiences, but I can say that they've been consistent for me. Maybe someone else will feel a little inspired or at least a little less alone.
My wife and I have led a life that has been predominantly characterized by challenge. We we got married, the preacher spoke of a Christian marriage as one where we are having to focus intently on Christ through our turmoil in the same way that a woman in labor focuses intently on those helping her. Little did that pastor know (because we have since met with him and accused him of foisting this on us) that he would be prophetically speaking of the way our lives would run together.
First of all, we are both first-borns. That means we are both right. Always. We are also polar opposites. That makes the always right thing substantially more difficult. Secondly, neither of us comes from families of great means. Finally--and others will corroborate this point--we have had some of the worst luck. In the last 11 years we've been together we have been stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the night in sub-zero temperatures, had our vehicles broken into multiple times, had vehicles we've borrowed broken into, suffered from crazy and incredibly painful illness and injury, been falsely accused of wrongdoing, been falsely accused of idleness, been homeless, been unemployed, been on public assistance, lived with our parents because of joblessness, been financially responsible for things that have happened to us while at work, been abused by our employers, and suffered through infants with insane colic and food intolerances that left mucus and blood in their stool, suffered from postpartum depression, insomnia, and, you know, other stuff.
When I come home, it's not always so I can rest. In fact, when I come home it is usually to do the other work I have to do. I can say that--shy of an occasional Sunday afternoon nap--I haven't rested in 5.5 years. In a related story, I have a 5.5 year old son. I also have a 2 year old son. Now the less rest includes a free side dish of screaming and a whole buffet of crying.
So, what in the world do I go home for? Because it is my home. Many homes are broken up these days because they are hard. Some break because they are abusive, and I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about the families that dissolve because life wasn't fun any more. Some people leave people that they once, "loved," but have since, "fallen out of love with." What a load of horse puckey. Life isn't some fairy tale. Fairy tales are fairy tales. They end happily every after--not life. Life is what life is; we get into trouble when we believe the things we are told to expect of it, which are usually not what it is. It'd be like everyone telling you that life is an airplane, when it's actually a bus. You climb on and expect to soar easily over the earth with non-allergen snacks in one hand and a very tiny, over-iced soda in the other. I've found that when I climb into life expecting it to be cramped, smelly, and full of people who are probably wanted in multiple states that I have a much more pleasant experience. Because that what I've hoped for out of life? No! Because that's what life actually is! I can continue to hope for something else while living in what is. I go home to my hard home where there is always crying, poop, chores, dishes, more poop, more crying and lots of broken things to fix, not because I love all the poop and the crying, but because that is actual, real life.
Now, is it all poop? Thankfully, no. 'Cuz that'd be gross. There is so much Love and Joy in my home that all the poop and crying are totally worth it. Now, mind you I didn't say 'in love' and 'happiness.' I said Love and Joy. Joy is a feeling that's not based in your circumstances. You can be miserable and still experience a Joy that is transcendent and providential. You can be so angry with someone that you don't dare speak for fear of what might come spewing out of your selfish mouth...and still Love them. All it takes is for you to set aside your self and serve the other people in your home. Realize that your circumstances don't determine your eternity. Realize that the foundation of your anger is a love of your self. When everyone commits to that, it works. It makes everyone else's sacrifice of self more meaningful when that is actually sacrificial. When it actually costs something. When it's hard.
So, home for me is where life is richest and fullest because the lowest lows are juxtaposed against the highest highs. The place I want to claim as mine--the beach in which I stick my flag and fight to the death for--is where my commitment to die to myself and serve those around me is matched by everyone I'm surrounded by. My hearth, my Love, and my existence is where actual hard, messy life happens. For me, home is where the hard is. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Jesse is a professor at Houston Baptist University. He also directs the school's theatre club, does handyman projects on the side, and produces features and short films. A Pastor's kid/missionary kid, his view of life is at the very least unique. And hopefully helpful.