The backpack with the little blue owls slips off her shoulder as she walks up the path and undaunted, she pushes it back in place. It is empty, save for the anticipation, the unknown of the day. We are enveloped by the phalanx of scurrying children and resolute adults, each looking for a friend, a teacher, a door, a space to fit. She reaches for my hand. It is the first clue I have that she is somehow feeling unsure in these surroundings. I think of how overwhelming the crowd must be to someone just cresting three-feet tall. I think of how overwhelming the rest of the morning might be.

By the time we find the entrance for the tiniest of the school’s new inhabitants, I can tell that she has gained some of her courage back. She stays close and quiet, but moves determinedly toward the door that the teacher holds open, pulling me along beside her.

I try not to hover as she finds her nametag in the pile on the table; as she finds a marker to print her name on the welcome sheet; as she finds a place to sit on the alphabet mat – her ground zero for the next 10 months. Soon, she is raising her hand to answer the teacher’s question – or rather, not to answer the proposed question, but instead to inform her teacher that she has a puppy named George (news to me). I resist the urge to interject, to correct her in her enthusiasm. I resist the urge to direct her to the playstations that I think she will enjoy most, and instead let her scope things out herself, watching her settle on the painting station. I resist the urge to coach her to wipe off the extra paint; to make sure she has put her name on her artwork, to place it neatly on the drying rack. I resist the urge to be her mother in the ways that I know how to be her mother, and try to embrace a way of being her mother that involves me not being involved.

How do I feel about my tiny, beautiful, wide-eyed daughter starting Junior Kindergarten?

I feel like I have fed her to the wolves.

I feel like her free, wholistic, spontaneous childhood is over, way earlier than it should be. I feel like I am institutionalizing her and let the indoctrination begin – this is how we become good little citizens, ok boys and girls? Everybody line up, everybody listen up, everybody hands up! I feel like my smart, creative, imaginative, clever daughter is on her way to becoming a trained automaton, the bulk of whose first year of formal education will be mostly about learning how to respond correctly to Pavlovian cues. I feel like I am failing her as a mother, as a human being. I feel like I am having an asthma attack, or maybe an existential crisis.

And then Junior Kindergarten is over for the day, and my daughter leaps towards us, bounds towards us and tells us, unprompted that Kindergarten is awesome! and her smile radiates confidence and enthusiasm, and I think that she’ll do just fine, she’ll thrive, she’ll be ok, and maybe, just maybe, I will be too.



  1. Aw, she's a darling.
    I feel the same way about school that you do - well, no KIDDING - and yet my oldest child is insisting that she needs to go back because she loves school so much. And I think that the love she feels for school says something very good about what she gets from it, and I hope that YOUR girl feels the same way, too.
    Long comment over now.

  2. We don't have Junior Kindergarten here, and I'll admit I'm sort of glad because my own daughter would be starting right now, too. And I'm just not sure I'm ready. She would be fine, I'm sure.

    I'm sure your little one will be fine, too, and probably better than fine. But these things are awfully, awfully hard on us.

  3. She has your eyes and smile! What a cutie...so happy.

    You know, whether it was JK or SK, she'd eventually be faced with that challenge of fitting in/being part of the greater community and being true to herself. But I hear you on not wanting that joy and enthusiasm and creativity squelched.

  4. that is a gorgeous picture.
    and yes. she will be fine
    and so will you.

  5. where do I get a little backpack like that one?

  6. How wonderful that she liked it!
    I have my girl in preschool and I am so thankful for it. If it weren't for them I am afraid she would know nothing because I keep forgetting to teach her stuff.

  7. omg she reminds me of YOU!

  8. Your post brought tears. I can't believe they grow up so fast.

    But, just so you know, not all of us teachers are out to turn your baby girl into a robot. Some of us dream about working with awesome mamas like you you to help those amazing, creative, confident little spirits find their passion, their fire, and the voice of their wild wolf howl.

  9. Oh...this post is so bittersweet. It's already been said, but she will rock this school thing, and so will you. (But it might take you a bit longer to adjust.)

  10. Yes-where did you get that backpack?
    So cute!
    And that dress, that smile, the cute haircut, that face..adorable.
    glad to hear that JK was "awesome"
    Same adjective used around these parts as well.

  11. I can totally relate to that feeling of pushing them to 'become good little citizens'; that feeling that you are stifling them by putting them into a 'system'.

    The amazing thing is, (in my case at least - times 2) that 'system' is incredible, and it helps them expand and excel in so many more creative ways than I even knew were possible.

    My 4-year-old came home from Sr. Kindy yesterday and described with star-struck wonder the full life-cycle of an apple tree. And then she serenaded me with 2 new songs (complete with actions and an ear-to-ear grin).

    That just cannot be a bad thing.

    And finally, your daughter is adorable.

  12. She's beautiful, Karen! And this post was so beautiful -- I so relate to every word of it. Every. I am teary eyed....

  13. By every - btw - I even mean the automaton paragraph. I chose the school I did precisely because it emphasizes play and not conformity -- like the school I went to, Jewish Day School, our other option. It's up to us, I think, to keep them individuals and FREE - at least within themselves and despite the systems we're all inevitably locked into....

  14. How adorable as she??

    I can't even get into my problems with the approach most schools are taking these days. If I have my way, I will revolutionize things. It's my goal.

    That being said, I do think that if someone is truly creative, it can't be squashed by a little old thing called school.


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