One of the hardest parts about Mia being in Kindergarten all day is that she's in kindergarten ALL day. I don't get to see her reactions or hear her answers or experience her excitement or notice her shyness. I can't watch her in that place and it's crazy-making.
I don't just want to be a fly on the wall, I want to be an embedded camera with emotion-detecting sensors and voice-enhancing recorders.
I want to know everything that happens, and is that too much to ask?
So when she comes home each afternoon, besides pestering her to TALK TO ME for pity's sake, one of my favorite activities is to empty her backpack. The folder that travels from teacher to parent is full of golden nuggets which explain to me, in some small part, how Mia's day went. There are activity sheets and notes and projects and reminders....it's a veritable sunken treasure. Only it's dry. And mostly worthless in a worldly way.
But, oh, to see a worksheet with her drawings and numbers and carefully written M-i-a in the upper corner...bliss. A shot of almost-interaction at the end of a missing-you sort of day.
Only, one day last week, her backpack came home extra-heavy. It was weighted down and bulging. There's never been that much material in her take-home folder, and I was intrigued.
"Mia, what's in this backpack today?" I asked. "It's so big."
"Yeah," she tossed out with indifference, "it's because I have homework." She turned her attention back to a bowl of grapes and a coloring page while I began an internal dialogue that can only be described as CRAZY.
Homework?! But...but...this is kindergarten! Isn't it too soon for that? And what on EARTH could qualify for homework at this age -- this is terrible! Sure, I'll be able to help her with whatever's in the bag today, but come on! Before long, she'll be doing long-division (do they even have such a thing anymore?!) and geometric equations and I WON'T know how to help her then! We'll have long, frustrating nights around the kitchen table with her feeling fed up with her parents' lack of useful knowledge, while we secretly curse the school-system for requiring something as irrelevant as trigonometry to be taught! And to kindergartners! Because I just heard the other day that now they're not so interested in knowing about circles and squares -- oh, no. The shapes to KNOW by 6 years old are trapezoids and parallelograms! I can't even spell those things, for pete's sake! And if they're too advanced for the unassuming circle, they'll probably be too advanced for simple addition! WHICH WILL PROBABLY BE THE EXTENT OF MY HELPFUL ABILITIES!!
Worn out and fretful, I gingerly placed the unopened backpack by the back door, and stepped away. I turned my back on it. I made dinner. Mia and Lauren played while we chatted. My calm veneer was cracked, but still mostly in place.
But after dinner, I knew it was time for the inevitable: the backpack's contents must be examined. I could handle whatever was in that bag. I'm an adult, after all. I'm not afraid of a little homework, am I?
Once on my knees, the bag felt like it held a ton of homework-bricks. Surely it was filled with all manner of nonsensical work to be completed by my darling kindergartner. Her innocence would be lost. Her playful joy in attending school, shattered.
But there was nothing for it.
Ziiiiiiiip. I peeked inside. Pulled out her lunchbox. Jacket. Naptime teddy bear. Yellow folder. And...
A library book?
A library book! Of course, I thought! That makes perfect sense as a type of homework! Reading together as a family IS one of the best indicators of high test-scores later in life, right? Of COURSE!!
I showed it to Mia who became excited right away. "Oh yeah! Today was library day, and every kid got to pick their very own book to bring home! My teacher says it has to live in my backpack until next week's library day, but we get to read it whenever we want! Can it be our bedtime story?!"
"Absolutely!" I was overjoyed. Library books are my forte, if I do say so. "This is an awesome kind of homework, isn't it sweetie?"
Mia tilted her head. "Well THAT'S not my homework, silly!"
I tilted my head (the better to dump all the crazy out...). "Wh...what's your homework, then?"
"Here," she said, grabbing the take-home folder and rifling through its pockets. She pulled out a zippered-baggie with carefully stapled sheets of colored paper inside. "This book is one I MADE and I have to read it to you."
More pride and gushing from me, but thankfully, not of the crazy sort. (I don't think so anyway.) She read the short story, catching sight words and remembering picture clues, smiling the whole time.
"I can walk to school."
"I can ride to school."
"I can drive to school."
She read it. And she was proud of it.
And maybe that's the point of kindergarten homework, after all.
Because it's probably not intended to make mama lose her carefully contained marbles. Not to say it won't happen again...