Weighty decisions

November 20,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I know it's only the middle of November, but we're already beginning to think about the fact that T. will be starting kindergarten next year. We're thinking about where she should go, and yes, we have a creeping wondering about whether she should go. We're not planning on keeping her back another year. She'll turn five this January, and by the time she starts kindergarten she'll have at least six or seven months of being five under her belt. We honestly never thought twice about sending her to school next year. But lately, everywhere we go it seems, people question us about whether we'll send her. Conversations go like this:

"How old is she?"

"Almost five."

Eyes widen in surprise.

"Five?"

Pause.

"She's so tiny! Will you send her to kindergarten next year?"

I always answer yes, we will, but little by little my confidence in this decision is wavering. She IS little. She looks like a small three-year-old, and this, combined with her baby-talk speech patterns, makes her seem much younger than she really is. When I take her to L.'s school for lunch and recess once a week, the older girls dote on her and carry her around and call her "baby." She plays along with this, despite the fact that I try to intervene, reminding them all that she's nearly FIVE and not so much a baby anymore. And while I would love my little girl to stay small for just a little while longer, I do know she needs to feel big, and good about being big. And readers already know how I feel about keeping kids back a year.

To further complicate matters, we also have the choice of sending her to our neighborhood traditional school, or to the public school where L. goes now. It's not an easy choice. T. knows L.'s school inside and out, and all the teachers know and love her already. But at L.'s school she is L.'s little sister, and the older kids already think of her as a "baby" who needs taking care of. In some ways we feel she would benefit from striking out on her own at an entirely different school, where she can just be T., and not someone's baby sister. But on the other hand, what a neat thing it would be to have them both at the same school, if only for two years. Where we send L. for middle school (only 2-1/2 years away!) will also be a factor in considering where T. should go to elementary school. There are way too many factors in this decision.

I wonder if the second-guessing you live through as a parent ever goes away? In my mind, I constantly revisit decisions we made about L.'s education, wondering if we had only know x, y, z, would we have done things differently? Even though I am not a fan of unnecessary "red-shirting" (holding kids back a year before they start kindergarten), I do wonder how different elementary school might have looked to L. and to all of us if he had been held back a year. Hindsight is, as they say, clear and perfect. Perhaps I put too much weight in school-related decisions, but as a teacher who works closely with the kids at the other end of elementary, middle, and high school, it's hard not to get bogged down in all the decision-making, and to feel like there's much at stake. In the end, I think, you have to go with your instincts, and with the advice from people around you--teachers, relatives, and others who know your child well. Sometimes, too, you just have to take the plunge and fight the temptation to always look back.

And as for T., we'll no doubt wrestle with all this for many months to come. I do have the feeling, though, that deep inside her little big-kid body she's shouting, "Kindergarten--ready or not, here I come!"