By John Jericiau
The math is simple. Twenty-five boys and girls in a kindergarten class means approximately fifty involved parents. We happen to already know two other parents (the parents of one of Devin’s preschool friends), and of course we know ourselves. So that leaves about 46 new adults to get to know.
In the first few weeks of school, I have minimal contact with them at drop-off and pick-up. A smile here, a “Have a good day!” there. Some parents I never get to see, since their nanny or grandparent or neighbor does the drop-off or pick-up. The parents I do know are, for the first few weeks, known simply as Jake’s mom or Ashley’s dad. I’m spending so much time trying to get to know the kids’ names that I don’t have time to commit the parents’ names to memory.
Two strategies that I have adopted since the boys’ preschool days have helped. One is where I start to make a list of parent-child pairs on my iPhone as soon as I learn a new name, and then I subsequently refer to that list just before drop-off and pick-up. I make sure to use everyone’s name every time I see them. It sure does make a difference. People are grateful to be acknowledged. The other strategy is that I get involved in the making of a class roster as soon as possible. All the names are right there on paper; I just make little notes like “tall blonde girl” or “military dad” to put an image to the name.
After the first couple of months I pretty much have everyone’s name down pat, and that means they probably know me by name too. When you call someone by name for a week, they are much more likely to add a “What was your name again?” to their own greeting. John was a common name in the 70’s; not so much now. I don’t even think it even makes the top 100 most popular names list these days (it used to be number one). Its rarity makes it that much easier to memorize.
Santa Monica is a fairly small community, so one is bound to bump into parents and/or classmates at the YMCA or the park or the municipal pool or the beach. These are good opportunities to get to actually speak to parents for more than just a few seconds. I learn where they live, what some of their interests are, and if they have other kids. Within a few minutes you get a sense if this is someone that you might actually work toward being a friend with, or are you instead going to stick with the very superficial drop-off and pick-up relationship.
We’ve lucked out with Devin’s kindergarten. All the parents are very nice, and we have had some great fun at impromptu play dates at the park, the frozen yogurt place across from the elementary school, and the pool. We’ve exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so we can facilitate even more time together outside of the school setting.
It’s nice to make new friends. When you have kids, a lot of your kidless friends hit the road, never to be heard from again except for a Christmas card or an occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook. But with these new friends, you’re sharing something so special: watching your children grow up and all the trials and tribulations that go along with that. It’s helpful to talk things out with them and get ideas when you’re near or at the end of your rope.
It was a natural progression, therefore, when we received an Evite from a classmate’s family last week to attend an evening dinner at their home in Santa Monica. There would be plenty of parents there that we have never laid eyes on, and that gave my husband some jitters. We are the token gay family, the guys with the new baby, the adoptive parents of the only African-American student in the class. No pressure.
We pulled up to their fabulous house (mansion) ten minutes early last night, so we took a quick drive around the block to eat up some time. When we got back to the house we waited for some familiar faces to show up, and we entered the compound with them. We felt much like we did when we entered a party in our 20s and worried about who was there and if we were underdressed and if we brought the right wine. After some small talk with the hosts, who were way too busy to have any significant conversation, we headed over to familiar faces to try and strike up a talk.
With most people that we met for the first time it felt like a form of speed dating as we got the lowdown on their life in the little time we had together. Some people’s lives have intersected in the past, oddly enough. For example, at this party there were a lot of New York transplants just like me, which made for fun reminiscing while helping to form a bond between us. Of course, most people asked about our 13-week old son, since we have all been through the 13-week mark at some point. A few people remarked how handsome Devin is or how caring Devin is or how special Devin is – all things we know but nice to hear just the same.
One thing about having children – you get a second chance at some of the things you didn’t get right the first time. I’m happy that I’m getting a chance to tweak my social skills. Maybe I can win Miss Congeniality after all!
By Ted Peterson
We planned a lot before we began the process of adopting. Besides learning what we could from the classes required under Calfornia law, we made a number of changes in our life as a couple. We quit smoking. I sold my two-seater and bought a car I could put a babyseat in. When we moved into together, we left two one-bedroom condos in West Hollywood, for a three-bedroom, two-bath cottage in the San Fernando Valley. It was -is- far from trendy restaurants and boutiques, but set on a quiet cul-de-sac on a lot filled with fruit trees. The perfect place to raise a family.
What we forgot was to check the local schools.
It’s a pretty seriously stupid thing to forget to look at when you’re picking a neighborhood to start a family. Straight couples buying homes in suburbia in which to breed don’t forget to ask about schools. I mean, even when there’s a pool and a mature blood orange tree in the backyard. Right?
We found a fabulous preschool in walking distance from our house right away, using the trick I found in the book “How To Choose The Right Preschool For Your Child” by Jenifer Wana – just go to the website for NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Child, type in your address and you’ll find all the certified preschools in the area. The author explains that there are plenty of good preschools that aren’t certified by NAEYC, but if they are certified, then they are excellent.
Once that was out of the way, and our son was nestled in a child-centered, nurturing, creative, and needless to say, expensive environment, we figured we could breathe for a while. We went to parent classes at the school, and smiled at the other parents who were nervous about their toddler graduating into the room for two-year-olds, or the two-year-olds coming into the class with the real preschoolers. What was there to be worried about? Even more hysterical were the graduating preschoolers, whose five-year-olds would be going off to Kindergarten. Would they be ready? Would they be scared? What if they had to read and they couldn’t, or they had to go to the bathroom and they didn’t know where to go?
Ian and I gave our support, but inside we were thinking, “Chill. It’s Kindergarten, not a pit of vipers.”
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, you had to be five by October of the year you begin Kindergarten. Mikey’s birthday is in September, which is a great (and statistically popular) month in which to be born. The weather is nice enough for an outdoor party for one thing, and as a child born in February who grew up in the Midwest, I can vouch for the fact that outdoor parties beat indoor parties every time. Most importantly, it seems, you get the advantage of being the oldest one in your class.
I’ve read some articles suggesting that the oldest kids in their grade levels have the best time of it in school. I can imagine. If Mikey wants a car for his 16th birthday, to be the first kid with a license as 10th grade begins, I envision a long summer of mowing lawns. Oh, and I suppose there are other advantages as well.
The point was that we didn’t have to think about Kindergarten for two more years. We didn’t have to research schools, visit them, interrogate parents and teachers and administrators, do the applications and interviews and tests for another twelve months.
But we were wrong.
The age for admission for LAUSD schools has changed from kids being 5 by the beginning of October to kids being 5 by the beginning of September. Mikey wouldn’t be the oldest in his class, he’d be the baby. And I was twelve months behind schedule for researching!
Immediately, I went from mocking the hysterical parents to joining them, firing off calls and emails to them to find out what they knew. I called up my parents, freaking out, to get some good old grandparentish advice.
They told me to chill. So I jumped into research mode.
As I said, we didn’t know much about our local elementary school so we looked into it. Turns out it hasn’t passed the minimum requirements for the No Child Left Behind program for the last three years. So, so much for the safety net school.
Looking into private schools, we found that the majority of the schools we were interested in wouldn’t take children who weren’t 5 by October- “no exceptions.” There’s no reason to apply until next year.
Talking to Mikey’s preschool teachers, they’re happy to keep him on for an additional year, and promise they’ll make sure he doesn’t get bored. That’s a relief, though it doesn’t mean that I’m not researching and applying to schools now.
You see, besides private and public, there’s the third possibility: magnet schools. Magnet schools are specialized public schools which can take students from outside their immediate physical area, thus “magnet.” They also have a largely deserved reputation as being better than the generic one-size-fits-all public schools. The way you get into them is by lottery, but not all applicants have the same odds. You gain points in order to strengthen your odds by a number of factors – having an overcrowded local public school, or one that is primarily attended by minority students, for example – including being on the waiting list.
What you have to do is game the system, apply to a magnet school you’re unlikely to be admitted to, get waitlisted, and then use those points the following year – the year you actually want your kid to start school – to get him in. We applied for a magnet so popular, it accepts 1 in 32 applicants. That makes it twice as competitive as Harvard.
There are still a lot of questions, and not just what will we do if Mikey beats the odds and is accepted at the magnet we applied to. There are so many school in Los Angeles, and so many sites to use for research, that it probably makes sense to get organized now. The problem is that none of the websites tells me what I want to know to filter our choices.
We want the school we pick to be diverse in its student population, and we can find that out. We want good sports facilities and strong academics, and we can find that out. We want our son not to be the only kid with same-sex parents at the school, and we can find that out.
What we can’t find out without two years’ worth of research: at which school are the parents people with whom we’d want to spend five minutes? Based on a little anecdotal evidence we’ve compiled, the better the school, the more horrible the parents.
Fingers crossed we’ll find some exceptions to that rule.
By John Jericiau
Now that Devin is seven weeks deep into kindergarten, it’s starting to hit us. Education, even at this age, is a serious matter. I’m not talking about the learning that is happening in Devin’s world. That is quite expected. It seemed like almost overnight Devin started telling us what new words he can now spell and what math equation (e.g. 4 + 4 = 8) he can now do in his head. It also happened so quickly that he went from a toddler whose drawings were no more than blobs of disfigured and disjointed bodies to a student of the Art Institute of Anywhere. He has started making self-directed art projects complete with stapling, scissoring, and gluing as if he’s been doing it all his life. You want to think that a seed was planted when we took him to those city classes for toddlers (e.g. Toddler Time!), but who really knows. Maybe we actually have the next Rembrandt living under our roof.
He has also come up with a few words and phrases that have obviously (to us) come from someone at school (e.g. SHUT IT!!!, awesome!, and YOU B*TCH!), because words like these had never crossed his lips before. Devin’s also been pressured by peers to finally hit some big milestones like tying his shoes, making his bed, and dressing independently. He’s also more willing to talk to other adults like the crossing guards, the principal, and the mailman, if nothing else but to say, “Have a nice day!”
Homework has been a challenge. He is already wiped out from a day of schoolandafterschoolSpanishclassandkarateandswimpractice. It’s hard to squeeze in one more thing. But he tries his best as we deal with the strange combination of his frustrated perfectionist side and his quickly distracted side. Luckily it’s only a page or two of homework, plus usually some kind of family project, on top of the daily compulsory reading, so it’s doable.
So I can really feel for him as his little brain is forced to work every day as he learns new things, meets new friends, and navigates his way around a kindergarten. But how about his Daddy, the old guy who has a brain about half as active as his young son’s brain (according to some studies)? Why is Daddy so incredibly exhausted at the end of these recent days? My theories follow.
Meeting new people. I have tried so hard to learn and remember the names of every parent and co-parent and nanny and grandma and grandpa and little brother or sister that joins Devin’s kindergarten classmates at pick up or drop off, as well as Dylan’s preschool. I have resorted to sneaking notes on my iPhone as I get introduced, and reviewing the notes as we walk to school the next day, which I highly recommend. I do it for Devin’s sake. I want Devin to have play dates and best buddies from this group. Most of the parents are actually pleasant enough. They’re also trying their best to find the common denominator with me, and so far being gay is not one of them. Not another gay man in sight. Almost all of the parents are aware of the double dad issue, since our picture is prominently displayed on the front door at the top of the heap for all to see. So far it appears not a single parent is avoiding me due to our sexual orientation. I gravitate to some of the parents more than others, and some I decide belong among the crazies and are best left alone.
Attending a PTA meeting. I finally attended my first full-fledged meeting, and although most of the attendees seemed pleasant enough, the group was heavily matrifocal. The couple of men that were present did chime in about subjects such as building maintenance and computer repair, but other than that we let the women dish out the complaints about the lack of funds to pull off a great bake sale or silent auction. I also signed up for volunteer hours with the school’s copy machine.
Analyzing the school scores. A few days ago “the” scores were published, and a statistics class in college sure did help me find my way. The parents of older kids have already dealt with and learned about API and APY and greatschools.com, but this is all new to me. Comparing your school to other schools and wondering if the low scores are going to impede your child’s progress toward his eventual job as President of the United States or Surgeon General is tiring and mind-blowing stuff.
Devin and I need to fit in some extra sleep to compensate for all the concentrating that we are currently doing. And since we’re now at 35 weeks pregnant with Baby Boy #3, better sooner than later.
By Meika Rouda
There is a new California mandate that children must be five by September 1st in order to start kindergarten. Since many kids, including my son, have birthdays after the cut-off date but before the end of the year, the state has implemented Transitional Kindergarten. It is a modified program for 4-year-olds, or the first of a two-year kindergarten program. I just found out about it a few weeks ago; apparently it is under wraps. I don’t think the school districts quite know how to handle this new grade and 4-year-olds could stay at their preschools instead of filling up the elementary school early but when I heard our local school was offering TK, I went ahead and signed him up. There were two main factors in my decision; one is cost. Preschool is expensive and TK is free so that is an easy choice. And the second is that it allowed us the opportunity to check out our local public school before kindergarten, so if it was horrible and he hated it, we could still apply for kindergarten at a private school. Win-win in my book.
School started a few days later and I had little time to prep my son about his new school or the fact that none of his friends from preschool would be there. On the first day of school, he was excited, his teacher was a pro, 28 years’ teaching kindergarten at this school and a warm man who can hold his own with 4-year-olds. My son didn’t cry when I said goodbye but I did. He was in a big kids’ school, a place where he would experience so many things, where he would be learning who he is and making decisions, where no one really is looking out for him in the same way.
The class is mostly boys, and large with 21 students. While preschool was a nurturing environment, TK is real school. There are bells that ring when class begins, and an expectation for a quiet, calm classroom. While preschool was entirely play-based learning, TK is more structured learning. After a few short weeks, my son is spelling his name and recognizing all numbers, something he struggled with at preschool. The pride he shows in knowing these things is immense and I realize he needs the challenge, the expectation that he will stretch his mind and keep up with other students. He has also made several new friends, his two closest friends ironically are also adopted, something they are too young to know or understand but it is as if a silent radar has gone off in their souls and they are attracted to each other. They were bonded from day one.
And on the weekends after school is over, he tends to fall apart. It is as if holding it together at school, learning and making his way, is so exhausting that he reverts to old behaviors I thought were long gone. Hitting when he gets frustrated, yelling at me and my husband when he doesn’t get his way, not listening at all when we ask him to do things. And it is frustrating for us. But I also realize he is under a huge transition, he has been thrust into a place of order, where he doesn’t get his way, where he has to listen, where he has to deliver. At home, in his safe place, he just wants to fall apart.
I wonder as I watch him adjust what kind of person he will be. Will he like school, be popular or sporty, be a boy the girls like or one they don’t, be a show-off in class or studious. Here are character traits just beginning to form now and, like life, he is making decisions about who he is. I am grateful he is an adaptable child, one who makes friends easily and takes things as they come. As parents all we can do is help shepherd these little souls and hope for the best, that life will be kind, and generous, that good fortune will follow our children, that they will have the tools to face life with confidence. And that is what transitional kindergarten has taught me: that we all transition all the time in life, being open and adaptable is the key. And that sometimes kindergarten is actually harder on the parent than it is on the kids.
By John Jericiau
“Daddy, is it called ‘kidnergarten’ because only kids are allowed?” my 5-year-old son asked as we walked the three blocks on his first day of school.
“Actually Devin, it’s ‘kindergarten’, not ‘kidnergarten’. But it is for kids your age”, I replied.
“Is there a garden there?”
“Hmmm. Sort of.” I thought to myself. It’s more of a symbolic garden. During the first class there were 25 little people – not babies anymore – who all seemed ready and eager to learn whatever was presented to them by a wiser adult. As I watched my son and his classmates listen to an outline of all of the learning activities they will experience in the coming year, and all of the expectations placed upon them (no extraneous talking, no yelling, etc.), I could almost hear all the slurping of their brains as they stared at their teacher and took it all in. Occasionally the new students would look back and give a quick wave to the proud parent who was also mesmerized by the entire experience and who was wondering how and when this metamorphosis happened! Wasn’t it just the other day that I was telling my son where to poop? Now I’m talking to him about treating other kids with respect, looking parents in the eyes to say hello, and basically acting like a decent human being.
Seeds were already being planted the very first day. Responsibility. Trust. Tolerance. All the seeds that you hope and pray will flourish and grow in your child to become the very pillars of their soul. Each morning we arrive to class, and each afternoon we leave. I watch carefully and count in my head how many of my son’s classmates greet him and yell goodbye. I’m relieved when some of the parents tell me that their son or daughter talks about Devin at the dinner table. They like him; they really like him!
It’d be really nice if Devin didn’t have to experience any of the angst of the school world, but it’s inevitable. The girls that won’t return his feelings. The boys who won’t let him in their circle of friends. It’s bound to happen. Just go easy on him. Please.
Some kids already stick out as the popular ones. The funny one. The loud one. The athletic one. The daughter-of-the-PTA-president one. I know how it all goes. I’ve been there myself obviously, and remember every bit of it, even though it was a long, long, long time ago. I’m not sure where Devin is going to be pigeonholed. Maybe the cool one, or the handsome one.
Alen and I wonder if we’ve set him up on a course of disaster. An African-American kid planted right in the middle of an all-white class. The son of two gay dads plopped directly into an ocean of Mommies and Daddies. All we can do, and what we must do, is overcompensate. I’ve already begun that dance. Join the PTA. Check. Volunteer for activities. Check. Quickly learn the other parents’ names and use those names on a daily basis. “Good morning, Patty!” “Hey Mike, what’s up?” Check. Bring in an entire box of Xerox paper for the teacher (who asked for a ream). Check.
We had completed applications to a couple of other public schools in the area for Devin’s kindergarten experience. Both admitted students by lottery only. The first school is an alternative school house right next to Devin’s current one. After the lottery they formed a waiting list, and kindergartener number 4 in line actually made it in at the last minute. We were right behind her, at number 68. The second school, one that we hung our hopes on, is a Spanish Immersion school about 1½ miles from home. We didn’t make the lottery, and they don’t even form a waiting list, but instead just pick another kindergartener’s name out of the hat if a space opens up. We thought this would be really good for Devin, especially since he is already fluent in one language (Armenian), and our friend/surrogate and I both speak Spanish.
I got a hold of the admission coordinator’s email early this past summer, and gently nudged her with a few sporadic emails:
“Is there any way to find out how close we are to getting in? I had a dream the last two nights that Devin got in, and I want to see if you’re going to make my dreams come true.”
“We had a great trip to Costa Rica and Devin learned a lot of Spanish so I think this is a really good time to tell us that he has finally been accepted.”
Does everyone else use similar strategy and thoughts like I do? I have no idea, but for now Devin seems really really happy.
Only 11 months until first grade!
By: Danny Thomas
what is on my mind lately…?
I don’t even know where to begin…
had a conference last week
with Lil’ Chaos’s kindergarten teacher…
Bless all professional educators…
and lets dole out a nice healthy portion of blessings for those that choose to do it in the public realm…
not that I really have a choice…
financially, that is…
but I have convinced myself that public education
serves two very important purposes, besides the whole
readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic thing
that is, it exposes children to two things that I think are important to be exposed to.
the first is diversity… man, I think diversity is important.
it’s important to be used to it, accustomed to it, to enjoy and delight in it…. and to learn to navigate it… difference is wonderful, and beautiful, and terrifying, and difficult.
the second is…
well, something I don’t know exactly how to put into words… simply…
especially given that I am somewhat of a non-conformist… this goes counter to a lot of what I blather on about often, and believe too…
but I think it’s important for a kid to learn, as they do in public schools, to sometimes just conform to expected mores… to toe the line…
even if she is faking it (as I was, or thought -believed- I was) most of the time.
anyway back to our conference…
it was good.
We met with two teachers; Kindergarten teacher – Señora K, and Mrs. H – the K+ teacher… It’s clear to all of us that Lil’ Chaos is going through an adjustment period… being 6, growing up, and out, and independent… and having yet another little sister…
It was amazing to hear some of her struggles, so many of them echoing back 30 years to when I was a struggling elementary student… exploding out of my body and personality at every turn. it made me realize, yet again, how awesome my parents were -are. I never felt guilty or self conscious about those struggles… angry and frustrated, yes… but not self conscious…
it’s also clear to all of us that Lil’ Chaos is bright, and beaming, and full of potential, and sharp, and observant, and insightful, and creative… and possessed of many characteristics that will serve her well when she reaches adulthood, but that can be counterproductive to her life as a kindergartner…
anyway, at this conference Señora M. recounted a story:
not long after having her third child she was out to coffee with a friend
lamenting the madness of her life
and pining for a time
when things would get “back to normal”
her friend shared with her a bracing
dose of reality…
“this is it,” she said, “this is your reality, get used to it.”
she laughed as she told us that story
sharing in the knowledge that chaos is what it is
and that you just sometimes put your head down and go.
I laughed too, commenting that I have been saying to Jen
for the last year or so
that we have to stop thinking in terms of “when things settle down”
we have to just give up that concept entirely.
so then what do you do?
how do you do that…
a lot of the things that get put off
until “things settle down”
are things like
going through boxes
old useless scraps of things
we can’t remember why we kept…
in the interim
have become less important…
trying new stuff
old hobbies too
It felt good
to meet again
with Señora M.
such a lovely and wise person,
and to know
that she is on the same wavelength
about our daughter
but about other things too…
We are different, diverse,
but we have an understanding,
and that’s good.