Kindergarten Transitions: a Stay-at-Home Dad's Perspective
A local father faces the challenge of sending his son off to school for the first time
Photo courtesy of Dylan Ward
My son didn’t love kindergarten. Not at first. Though it had only been a week at that point and all of this was so new, just like it was and will be for hundreds of other little children starting kindergarten, this truth hit me harder than I expected.
I was disappointed most by the fact that my son wasn’t wowed and excited by kindergarten. I dismissed my son’s reaction to it initially as just first-day shock. But when he didn’t get excited or exclaim his love for kindergarten in the days that followed, I worried even more. He seemed more stressed than happy, and irrational fears cropped up as I worried kindergarten was simply too much for him.
I am a worrier by nature. My son’s reluctance to embrace kindergarten coupled with my bouts of worry didn’t help this transition. I already didn’t like being away from him for so many hours and I knew he didn’t like it too. I didn’t like not knowing all the things that he was doing and experiencing inside that new, large brick building we called school. His quietness at the end of the day was strange and uncharacteristic and I couldn’t comprehend it.
With each day I struggled to help my son work through his frustrations, I also had to work through my own frustrations. The days he spent in kindergarten only seemed longer because of this. When I dropped him off at school, I watched him walk into the building, his superheroes backpack bouncing along with his small gait and I cringed watching him walk down the hall away from me, pangs of guilt washing over me. I worried I had failed as a parent because my son was having such a hard time. What had I done wrong that he would feel this way? How could I have made this transition better for him?
As a stay-at-home dad, my son and I have hardly been separated from each other in the past three years. Preschool was only two half days a week and we have many fond and happy memories of it. The rest of our time was spent just the two of us together or with friends, laughing and crying, on-the-go, or just relaxing with nothing to do. Those were the best days. Nothing to do, just enjoying the day in the way we wanted and as it unfolded, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways. Suddenly, now I was facing those looming elementary school years and my son was growing faster than I was prepared for and I was filled with so many questions and uncertainties that I wanted those preschool years back.
It wasn’t until well into the second week of school that my son finally started to warm up to kindergarten. During those first two weeks, I pored over and read all the comments online from the new kindergarten moms and how much their kids were just loving kindergarten, despite the sadness of being away from their babies who were moving on to the next, big step. As a dad, I felt a bit left out, as we stay-at-home dads are far and few in between, but I knew I felt these same feelings too.
I also worried how I’d be accepted into the fold of a world dominated by moms. Was there a place for me somewhere among the “Room Moms”? Could I really fit in with the “Laminating Fairies”? Where could I help the school but also help my child to feel safe, comfortable and happy there too? Navigating the rules, regulations, needs and nuances of the multiplex system of public schools was enough just to try to understand and absorb it all.
One of the hardest realities was when I noticed how quiet it was in the house and it hit me how lonely I was. Finding a balance with all that extra time was hard without a child there to keep me on my toes. I missed interacting with my son, watching him learn and discover the world at his fingertips. Alone at home, my mind was filled with unanswered questions. I wondered what my son was doing in the classroom. I wondered if he was enjoying learning new things? I wondered if he liked being with his new friends? I relished nothing more than hearing his tales of what happened at school, even if those stories were told several days later.
In our first weeks of track out (a perk I especially love with a year-round school) I’ve enjoyed every moment I could spend with my son. We lazed about and explored the world at our own paces. Though we were both happy, I gave gentle reminders to him that he would go back to school soon and with that meant long days again and being away from me. But I hugged him and gave him what comfort I could give, letting him know he should not worry. One of our favorite children’s picture books is "Wemberly Worried," written by Kevin Henkes. We love to read it and recall it often to remind each other (me, mostly) not to worry. Sometimes Daddy just needs someone to hold his hand and make it all better.
Dylan Ward writes fiction, short stories, screenplays, reviews and essays. In 2014, his first book was published: "Behind the Story of The Goldfinch." Learn more about his work at dylanwardwriter.com.