What I Learned In Kindergarten

26 Apr

In the middle of the night I am remembering my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten. I wrote a note to her to mark the occasion and I read it to her before her mom and I drove her to school.

“Today marks the beginning of a new adventure for you. May you see the best of today and recognize all the opportunities that come your way. May your eagerness to learn be a trait that grows stronger from this day forward. May your respect for others and friendly nature help you develop good friendships and relationships with your classmates and your teacher.”

Clearly the focus was on preparing her for a year of learning and adventures: new teacher, new friends, new rules. Little did I realize how much I would learn in Kindergarten this time around. Also, consider the additional difficulty of  being the non-custodial parent who doesn’t have a set routine five days a week because my daughter lives with her mom, and you can understand how a school year already packed with challenges became even more challenging for me. With that in mind, here are the Big 8 lessons I’ve absorbed in the last 8 months.

8. Packing lunch at night saves time. On evenings I am with my daughter at the apartment she shares with her mom, I like to prepare her lunches. The results are more effective at 1o pm than they are if I go over at 6:30 am. I spend far less time searching the refrigerator for missing food and looking through cupboards for plastic containers. Plus, she notices if I forget to include a spoon for her yogurt. She’s forgiving, but she doesn’t hesitate to point out my mistake.

7. Signing any necessary paperwork right away means it’s less likely to get lost and forgotten. That includes report cards, tardy slips, permission slips and fundraiser forms. Speaking of paperwork, we’re overdue to either order or return her school pictures. I suspect we’ll be ordering everything sent home. Who doesn’t love kid pictures on magnets?  

6. Offering an incentive for a week of perfect behavior may be futile. Managing to go 5 days without a single mark must feel to a kid like buying a scratch off lottery ticket does to an adult. Even the best intentions don’t lead to the best results. It’s better to offer incentives one day at a time. Last week, I rewarded a day of good behavior at school by buying her ice cream at the park. But, earlier this year, my daughter managed to get earrings thanks to a sweet deal with her mom who rewarded her for a combination of a week of fairly good behavior at school and bravery at Tae Kwon Do class.

5. Being as patient as possible when she’s learning to read pays off forever. She’ll be stubborn at times and refuse to read, even though she absolutely loves books. It’s better to maintain a sense of humor (albeit a strained one) when she’s being difficult about using the reading skills she’s learned. Otherwise, I risk creating a negative association with reading altogether.

4. Walking her home on my shoulders is a great workout. This is especially true when it’s hot and humid. My legs feel like solid as a rock, and I’ve lost 25 pounds since she started school. If I walked her to and from school every day, I could be down to 160 pounds by June.

3. Filling out the form for the school’s required background check is a sensible thing to do in September. I waited several months to do it, and waiting a bit longer could have affected my ability to accompany my daughter—and every Kindergarten student—to the Fort Worth Zoo this week.  I imagine she will persuade me to get ice cream for her and her little friends, and I will be unable to say no. Sure, I want our little group to have more fun than any other group.

2. Remembering that the only job title I possess at her school is “Aidan’s Dad” is helpful. Nobody needs to know what I do for a living. She’s my priority and my only focus when I am taking her to school and picking her up. My daily activities of looking for acting and writing gigs become irrelevant in those moments, and how my daughter is doing is the most important thing I can discuss with anyone I encounter. 

1. Sleeping as much as I can whenever sleep is available is always a brilliant move. My girl may need some extra help on the mornings I’m helping to get her ready for school. She may wake up in the middle of the night due to growing pains at times she’s staying with me. She may fall asleep in the early evening on the way home from an activity only to wake up at 11 pm and not want to go back to sleep. She may have endless energy at 6 pm and want me to run all over the playground with her. Saying “Daddy is tired” doesn’t sound reasonable to my 5 year old. I need my energy to match hers as often as possible.

Okay, so I’m dropping the ball on #1 by staying up ridiculously late to write. But I’ve already promised to walk her to school in the morning so #4 is in play. That’s even better because it means we won’t have to deal with the lack of etiquette in the carpool lane.

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