While we visited my parents last month, my sister asked us to come see her at school. She teaches a 5th grade class down the street and we decided to have lunch with her. So I packed up the girls and prepared for my meal in an elementary school cafeteria since, let's see, minus 11, carry the 1 - oh good god. Moving on ...
Helen was excited to see a real school, since she's in a tiny daycare now. She will be starting kindergarten in August, and she has asked me a million questions about it. Every day it's something different: what they will do in kindergarten, if her friends will be in her class, what they will do after kindergarten, how long will they be in class, if they get naps, or snacks, or playdough - everything. That kind of curiousity is exciting to watch develop, and I haven't seen her the least bit anxious about it.
Anyway, we arrived at the school for lunch. I had told her that her Aunt M is a teacher, and we would be eating lunch with her class. But I didn't tell her that the cafeteria would have about 200 kids in it. She walked in and looked around and just stood next to me, not saying anything.
So we went through the lunch line. Folks, it was corn dog day. They had cooked carrots and a blueberry dessert to go with it. These are all things my children will eat, so the lunch line was a total success in my book. We got food for Alice and Helen, and headed for the tables.
I had one of those mommy moments where I realized that Helen is growing up. I'm used to thinking of her as an older kid since there are 2 babies at home, but she's like an older baby because I still do so much for her. School age is a big leap. This cafeteria scene will become a daily occurence for her quite soon. She'll have to make choices without her teachers doing it for her. No one will constantly remind her to eat all of her lunch so she won't be hungry later. I kept asking her what she thought, and she was really quiet, just taking it all in. Helen is *never* quiet. So this was interesting to watch. It made me wonder how long it will take her to reach a comfort zone in her own school. Maybe it's good that we practiced this ahead of time, so she has an idea of what to expect.
My sister asked her if she wanted to take her tray to the dishwasher, and she was totally up for it. So they headed to the window. Later, Helen took Alice's tray all by herself. As I watched her walk away from me carrying that tray, I did my darndest not to tear up.
After lunch we headed back with my sister's class to their room. My sister asked Helen to be the line leader, which was a huge deal to Helen. All students are supposed to walk quietly through the halls on what they call "Third Street." The square floor tiles make a neat pattern, and they are supposed to walk on the third tile away from the wall. If I had to guess why, after watching a class head back to their room, the third tile is just far enough away to keep kids from getting the walls dirty, bumping up against doors, tearing up bulletin boards, or disturbing other classes. It also means as they travel through the halls, another class can approach from the other direction and everyone stays in line and in order. Helen spent the entire trip back to my sister's classroom with her head down, totally focused on keeping her feet on Third Street. She took her duty very seriously and never wavered once. A few times we had to tell her to "look up, go this way" as they needed to make a left turn. But she did a great job. We saw the classroom, watched the kids get their stuff ready for the next lesson, and then headed back to the car. She saw so much that day, including a boatload of kids several years older than her, and she still hasn't expressed an ounce of anxiety about going to kindergarten. So that's a good thing.
This week I chatted with another daycare mom whose daughter will go to Helen's school. She said that the first day, they have an event for the kindergarten parents called the "Boo Hoo Breakfast." It's meant to lessen the separation anxiety, by letting us remain at the school a little longer, but it gets us out of the classroom so the kids can get started with their day. I thought the name was hilarious. Even funnier is that first day is a half-day. So I drop her off starting at 8:00, have breakfast at 8:30, and school ends 3 hours later. That means I still have to figure out lunch & daycare for her that first week. Ugh!
(By the way, if anyone wants it, I found a recipe on a school district's website for that square pizza that we used to have for school lunches. Remember how excited you were to find out it was pizza day? That giant rectangle with the shredded sausage and hardly a hint of tomato sauce, underneath a layer of barely melted cheese, and that chewy pizza dough? Ah, the things we used to love. Now, if I can just figure out how to dial down the portion sizes from "serves 300.")