School's Out for Summer

Well, we did it.  We successfully got a kid through kindergarten.  Based on that, I think we can go ahead and declare this parenting experiment a success. We are experts.  It is known.

People always tell you how fast these years go.  They tell you to pay attention because you'll blink and your babies will be grown with children of their own.  I'm feeling a bit of that this week.  I mean, I swear it was just yesterday we were walking him in for his first day of school.

Nico was so excited to start school that day, not even a little nervous.  Just bursting with energy.  Couldn't wait to put on his backpack on and carry his own lunch box.  It probably helped that he had been in that school every day the year before to drop his brother off.  Linc started half days at school when he turned three as part of the Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities program, and Sam and Nico would walk him down the hall to class every day, telling Nico that next year this would be his school, too.

So, when Nico started kindergarten, we had already been through the parental first-day-of-school-trauma, but we had done it with a three year old who was still in diapers and couldn't speak yet.  I guess, given how much more grown up and self sufficient Nico was on his first day, I shouldn't have cried.

But, you see, just five minutes before he had been a newborn baby sleeping in the crook of my arm.  And see, he was my firstborn, and here we were giving him over to someone else to raise for seven hours a day.  And yeah, I cried.  A lot.  Like kind of embarrassingly a lot, judging by the way the Assistant Principal laughed when he saw me sobbing on the way out the door.  "Don't worry," he called after me, "We'll take good care of him!"

And, of course, they did.  Nico came home every day bubbling over with stories of his new friends and his new experiences.  He woke up every morning telling us what his day would hold.  "Today is art," he would say.  Or, "It's fun Friday today!"

He grew bean sprouts and watched chicks hatch.  He learned about the lives of his friends, what they like, what they eat, how many brothers or sisters they have and whether their parents live apart.  Dinner conversations have become, "How was your day?  What did you do, what did you learn?"  And you can bet he tells us in intense, wide-eyed detail what his life was like for the seven hours that day while he was off being a student.

I know it's just kindergarten, but it's also the beginning of his life without us.  The whole thing just reminds me how fast he's growing up.  He's always been strong willed, but this year we have seen that strong temperament manifest itself in something more than just the tendency to throw tantrums when he doesn't get his way.  We watched him become a leader in his class, watched his personality start to cement itself as a string of new challenges, new people, and new choices forced him to decide, little by little, what kind of person he is.

And the person he is becoming, although at times still obstinate and selfish, is increasingly someone I am glad to know.  I think Nico is a person I would like to know even if he wasn't my son.  He's loving and earnest and sensitive.  There are times when he shows such compassion to other people that I cannot believe he is only six.  Sure, there are other times when he acts very much like a self absorbed, unyielding six year old.  But the rest of the time, he is interesting, sweet, even witty.  I am surprised by how funny he is already, not just the elementary school kind of silliness, but downright comedic in a surprisingly sharp kind of way.

And, of course, sometimes he giggles for half an hour over a fart joke. He is still six, after all.

Last week, when we had family in town, we did a tour of some funky local shops.  In one of the vintage stores, several of us ended up standing around a display of used boots waiting for a few stragglers to finish looking around.  Although no one there was really intending to buy a pair of boots, we all kept picking them up and looking them over, half tempted and half bored.

Nico groaned to one of the store employees that he wished he could get some boots, but they were all too big for him.  She said, "Oh no, there are a bunch of children's boots in the back.  See?"

I have no idea where he got the idea that he should have a pair of cowboy boots.  Sam and I are not exactly western style dressers, and he certainly has never seen one of us in a pair of Tony Lamas.  But when he heard that there might be boots in his size, he turned his puppy dog eyes on his father and all but begged to go check it out.  He and Sam disappeared on what I assumed would be a quick recon mission that would end in Sam telling him that we weren't going to shell out good money for some old boots he would never wear.

Boy, was I mistaken.  He tried on every pair of boots in that store that were anywhere near his size until he found a pair that just about fit.  They were a little big, but they were nice boots and in good condition.  Seeing the joy on Nico's face as he pranced around the store in those boots, Sam did what any good father would do.  He sighed and opened his wallet. 

Nico spent his last week in kindergarten wearing those boots every day.  Never did it occur to him that wearing cowboy boots with cargo shorts might look odd.  He will barely take them off to go to bed.  The moment he walked out of the store in those boots, they became his most prized possession.  I, for one, love that story as a bookend to his first year of school.  It's such a mix of classic little boy whimsy and confident, unapologetic individuality.  He is so remarkably, unmistakably coming into his own as a real, three dimensional person.  And although it is baffling to the woman who still feels he should be a babe in arms, it is so exciting as a parent to see flashes of the man he will become.

Congrats on your first year, kiddo!  We couldn't be more proud.


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