A few weeks back, following so many months worth of assertions that you already knew everything Pre-K had to teach, your parents and teachers agreed: You were up for a challenge. And so you transitioned to a Kindergarten classroom one half-year ahead of schedule, the youngest child of the lot. When dad dropped you off that first morning, he asked you whether he should stand with you as your class lined up in the lining-up spot and prepared to head off to the classroom, a new classroom. No, you said. “I’ve got it.” And you did.
Overnight – literally, overnight – we learned things are different in Kindergarten. Some of it we read about in that note from your new teacher. Some of it we knew because you told us, “Things are different now, Mama. I’m big.” And just like that there was an average-sized backpack, less free play, more academics, 300-piece puzzles, friends who are six. (Was I aware that Delia could make a French braid and had a boyfriend?! I was not.)
One night, as I was tucking you into bed, I noticed it: Your feet. Yesterday (or was it the day before that, or had it been years?) they were pudgy, triangle-toenailed baby feet. You weren’t fooling. You were big now. Or bigger. Not a baby, in any event. And so we took pains to follow your lead (Oh, right, right! You don’t play with that toy anymore! Unless you do, and then you should!) and we gave you new, age-appropriate responsibilities: Make your bed, tidy up the playroom, fold the towels – and do your homework.
Do – To take constructive action.
Your – Of or belonging to you.
Homework – Academic exercises meant to reinforce classroom learning.
In our house, we believe homework has its place: That it encourages focus, discipline, creativity, problem-solving, that it enables you to apply a skill, explore a question, grapple with how you feel about an issue or a whole subject, to practice (because practice makes better) and, most importantly, to fail (because that’s how you learn stuff). So dad and I made clear from your very first assignment: Homework was one of your responsibilities, one of your opportunities.
Big kid that you are, you embraced your opportunity, too. When your teacher assigned that special project timed to St. Patrick’s Day – Build a leprechaun trap! – you started engineering right away. Per her instructions, you fashioned it yourself from ordinary household materials and with limited assistance from your parents. I helped hot glue an edge and tied a couple of knots, but that was it.
And you embraced the fun. Hell, we’re Jewish and about 1/10 or less Irish on one side of the family but, for two weeks this February, you knew absolutely everything about baiting leprechauns. Step 1: Rainbows. Step 2: Glitter. Step 3: The ruse (i.e. It’s not a trap! It’s a lovely little leprechaun house! Come right in! Bam.)
We were proud of you and your stringy/packing tape/finger paint/foil-lined/glittery monstrosity that used to be an Amazon box. We were especially proud when you took it to school to share with your class and situated it right alongside traps constructed out of plywood and nails, constructed from kits purchased specifically to attract actual leprechauns, constructed by prodigies (or, more probably, by grown-ups).
“Oh,” you said (only half out loud and the rest in your subconscious), “maybe mine’s not that good.”
You were right and you were wrong all at the same time. You were right: It was the worst cell in the leprechaun jail, the one that looked pretty much like nowhere any leprechaun would be caught dead or alive. You were wrong: It was the best. It was the f’ing best.
I told you that latter thing. I said I loved the way you used that big brain, worked so hard, pressed the tin foil into the corners and scrawled “Your House” on one side. The point wasn’t that you caught a leprechaun (they’re impossible to catch – impossible! – and your teacher knew that when she gave you the assignment). The point was that you saw the project through, that you took ownership, that you embraced your responsibility, your opportunity to learn something, to learn something about engineering, something about art, something about yourself. See what you did? You did it. You. And it’s awesome.
You’ve got it. You said so yourself. And I believe you, big kid.