Some of the things my son learned in kindergarten break my heart.
The wonderfully excited child that I sent off to kindergarten that late summer day was a confident little boy, not only sure of himself, but sure of the world. He believed that life was inherently fair, and that adults were put on earth to take care of children. He believed that the good guy would always win, and that the bad guy would, at the very least, get put in the time-out chair.
Before kindergarten, my son believed that promises were meant to be kept, and that “stupid” was about as bad a word as had ever existed. He believed that learning was fun, and that teachers teach because they love children.
He was naive and innocent, as young children should be. By the end of that year, he had learned a lot of things.
He had learned that life is often not fair, and that some days, no matter how good you are, you’ll still get punished with the rest of the class. He had learned that sometimes people are dishonest, and that sometimes they even get away with it.
Most heartbreaking to him, he had learned that promises aren’t always kept, and that just because Mrs. Huffman said she would bring ice cream on Friday, that did not mean that she would remember to do so. Even worse, he learned that even though a promise has been made, if a person gets angry enough, they might take it back.
He learned that although he didn’t get in trouble once – not even once – Johnny would get the “Terrific Kid Award” because Johnny only got in trouble five times that week instead of the usual ten, and we need to be fair and reward Johnny for his improvement.
He would learn that the word “fair” doesn’t really mean fair, and that the word “terrific” doesn’t really mean terrific.
He would also learn that just because a person works at a school that does not necessarily mean that that person likes children – particularly not in the case of Miss Louise, the cranky cafeteria lady. He would learn, in tears, that “one vegetable” and “one fruit” does NOT mean two helpings of applesauce.
And he would learn that by comparison, “stupid” really isn’t such a terrible word after all, especially not when compared with some of the other “s” words one might hear. Unfortunately, he would also learn some of the other “s” words.
As heartbreaking as it was for me to witness and as disappointing as it often was for him, my son learned that the world is not made of black and white. He learned that even adults aren’t perfect, and that some people are just mean. He learned that life is not always fair, and sometimes your reward has to come from an internal source instead of an external one.
In other words, he began to grow up. I only wish it hadn’t had to happen so soon.