Friday, May 22, 2015

All We Ever Really Need To Know

Here it is, already May, and the first year of school for my six year old Noah is about to come to a screeching halt. Kindergarten is almost over. Mother of God, he's not going to be the littlest one anymore. I'll skip the cliche about how quickly the time has passed, but not because I'm not thinking it. And as I sit and reflect on the year my guy has had and who he is becoming, I cannot help but consider whether, in fact, he has learned all the things he really needs to know in Kindergarten. On orientation night this year, the Kindergarten teachers took some time to read the parents a passage from Robert Fulghum's classic, "All I Ever Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten," which of course prompted me to look for our copy, which I couldn't find, and so I bought another. We've probably all heard the memorable lines of this book. There's a beautiful, poignant little list he's put together and you can't help but love it and see the truth in it.

But it was also written in 1988.

I have included his list below, but I've also made a few modest modifications. To be clear, I have no right to touch this list. And no, it was never intended to be taken as literally as I have taken it. BUT, in all honestly, I do feel like my modernized version really works for me, as a parent and as a person who is trying to get it at least partially right. If the day happens to come when I panic and forget everything I know about how to live life, I believe I can turn to this and still make things work for a good long time.

So, given this revised list of lessons to learn in Kindergarten, I think it is worthwhile to go through it and assess how exactly we're doing so far. And by "we" I mean Noah, who is just about to finish Kindergarten, and me, who graduated from Kindergarten 30 years ago.

Please note: My additions are probably obvious, but if they are for some reason not obvious, I have used strikethroughs and italics.

Share everything, except the things that you truly truly love more than anything else. Those can be yours, but don't show them off.

Well, sharing is a tough one, and it's not a natural instinct in our primitive little people.

Yes, for the most part, the idea of sharing is a great one, of course. But to share every single thing is actually not a reasonable thing to ask of a person.

Share your crayons? Share your blocks? Share your thoughts? YES! YES.

But... share your favorite lovey, share the Lego that took you all weekend to make... ?

Share your recipe and your advice? YES, of course! But share your husband? Do NOT share everything.

In conclusion, we are both very good at not sharing everything.

(And yes, he's definitely well on his way to sharing most things. Unless with his sister, with whom he shares a few tiny things.)

Play fair

If "play fair" means Noah wins every time and if he doesn't happen to win, it's because someone else cheated or didn't understand the rules correctly, then we are NAILING IT.

Don't hit hurt people

In karate class, Noah's sensei has started to ask the kids to, I don't know, kind of karate kick each other, in the controlled way that karate kids do this sort of thing. He doesn't appear to be that into it and tends to favor more of a light-arm-chop-and-then-back-up-quickly approach.

Toddlers love to wrestle him because he allows it and doesn't hit back and he purposefully cushions their falls, but he is a lot bigger than them, so he still seems super tough. Noah does not hit. That's really never been a problem.

But does he hurt people? Has he? Will he? My boy is a very sweet boy, but I am also not naive. Is he perfectly capable of causing somebody pain with his words? He is, just as any of us are. If I fail to teach him empathy, I cannot help but feel that I will have failed at something huge.

I'd so much rather be hit than hurt. I got slapped one time at a sleepover party by another girl at the sleepover party when I was a kid. I wouldn't have cared so much about the slap except that she also told me to shut up, which was really the crappiest thing to hear from a friend.

I try to not make people feel crappy, and when I do, I am tortured. I can only hope my son learns to feel the same agonizing self-loathing.

Put things back where you found them

Uh... pass.

Don't take things that aren't yours

Yes, doing it. Done. One down.

When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together

Yes, another big yes! Yes to sticking together on the walks and in the big wide world and yes to grabbing tightly onto his sister and forcing her to stay put on the sidewalk when he sees a car is in the way far off distance.

Yes for now, anyway. But isn't this something rather easily learned and, over time, followed less and less? Sometime, I suppose, I will have to let go of his hand because that's what parents do when their kids are 14 years old (wait... is it younger?) and that's what we have to do. But what then?

I have done my own exploring, though it's possible that I watched for traffic too carefully at times. The feeling of my mother's hand folded over mine never did go away. In high school, in Europe as I travelled alone, and then in real-world life (when nothing really protected me but my own wits), her hand was always there. It still is, even though she's gone.

I don't quite know how I'll ever let go of his hand, but I do hope he always feels it there, perhaps on his back, maybe guiding him or just supporting him, but at the very least, warming him in some intangible way.

Wash your hands before you eat

This happens 40-50 percent of the time, but ALWAYS after we've been playing in the sewer. (Just kidding...maybe).

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody if that's what you really meanBut always try and make the person feel better somehow. They need it and so do you.

Noah is not quick to say he is sorry because I have not taught him to say sorry when he hurts somebody (don't give up on me; please keep reading). I've asked him to figure out how to make the situation better, how to try and fix it. Sorry can be a gratingly meaningless word that is thrown around to smooth things over quickly.

Generic scenario I have difficulty with:

Grown up: "You just threw sand at that girl! Say your sorry! Say 'sorry'!"

Kid: "Sorry..."

Grown up: "OK good. Go play now!"


The older I get, the less sorry means, unless delivered in a letter, a sincere look, or through some level of genuine emotion.

We need to feel it and want to make it better. Maybe that's a lot to ask of a Kindergartener, but I'm still asking it.

Flush as necessary

But if it's yellow -- and you're at home -- and you don't have guests over -- let it mellow, man... especially these days, when our environment is fighting a losing battle.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you sometimes. Getting outside is always good for you.

Frankly, most of us eat way too many cookies. Usually to make ourselves feel better. It works for about 30 seconds. I try not to resolve our issues with cookies too often. I hired a sitter who I later found out fixed Noah's tantrums with cookies and ice cream. Besides the fact that those types of fixes should be saved for parents feeling truly desperate, I will also note that she was Noah's least favorite sitter of all time (don't worry, she's definitely not reading this). The cookies did work... but, as I said, for 30 seconds, which left 3 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds more time to fill. If she tried the outside option, I feel things would have been different.

Here are some common phrases uttered in our home when we've reached that point in the day when we don't really know what to do with ourselves.

"Mommy, Grace keeps trying to look at the iPad and I'm playing on it and I can't FOCUS."

"Mama, Grace doesn't understand that the couch is BASE and I was on BASE when she got me, so I'm NOT IT!"

"Mama, I'm hungry again."

"Mommy, why can't I throw this ball in the house?"

"Mommy, get off your iPhone and play with me."

Can I fix these things with cookies? No. With my words and wisdom? Mmmm... maybe about 7% of the time.

On my finer days, it occurs to me that outside is an option; if I manage to follow through with the thought and finesse the party out the door, the fix happens almost immediately, always. Unless freezing rain pelts us in the face. Then we go back inside and continue where we left off.

Live a balanced life-- learn some and think some and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some

This is the line that sums it all up. It's the lesson that comes easily to kids but is often forgotten later on. When we let go of these things, we lose. We see ourselves as "grown ups" in the worst possible sense of the world. It's not a luxury to play and dance and learn every day; it's a necessity. Not for the sake of our kids but for ourselves.

Do we have dance parties in our kitchen on a weekly basis? Yes. Do we play chase before bed when we should be calming down? We do. But we should play more. The house is by no means clean, but it should be less so because I spend too much damn time tidying and not enough time building blanket forts. I spend too much time on the g-damn iPhone and not nearly enough time with our dusty collection of board games.

We went to a party a couple weeks ago that felt like a college party. We loved it. We all loved the college party. We need to play more and dance more and sing more. It's okay to get a responsible sitter and a responsible driver and revisit our inner college kid once in awhile.

Gosh, I think it's just important for our kids - and ourselves - to be assured that joy and personal growth does not equate to youth, but to actually living. So, more forts, board games, and beer pong. Or at least a date night every once in awhile.

Take a nap every afternoon unless that's a completely unreasonable option, in which case, just make sure you take a break everyday.

Did Fulghum ever actually meet a Kindergartener? A NAP? I once heard of a Kindergartener who napped. One Kindergartner.

Here's where I confess, with minimal guilt, that the iPad comes in handy almost every day in my Kindergartener's day for probably about an hour (or sometimes more). It is not because I think Minecraft is a brilliant tool to creativity (maybe it is, but that's not what I'm doing on my break, so I wouldn't know). It's because he needs a break and I need a break and Grace needs a break and the house needs a break. A nap is not happening, but I am more than happy to enforce this rule using other methods.

Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Not a thing I've ever had to teach him, but I sure as hell hope I can nurture it. He won't always wonder whether dragons are real or why I can't rattle off the names of the first 5 living organisms ever to exist on earth (yes, he asked me this and yes, I failed), but I hope he is learning that asking questions is the key to all of it.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup -- they all die. So do we.

Unless, of course, you've already watched somebody in your life die, in which case, it doesn't seem necessary to drill this lesson in with a goldfish or a hamster. Yeah, he gets it.

And then remember the Dick and Jane and Bob and Fly Guy books and the first word you learned -- the biggest word of all -- LOOK."

He sees the bird nest in the tree when everyone else has walked by it. He finds the white in my hair and the Lego piece that has been ever so slightly moved by a curious sister. He has no problem with looking and seeing.

Listen. Really listen.

Yes, Noah, continue to listen to instructions and listen to rules. And keep listening to lyrics and listening to stories and listening to the birds that sing and the squirrels that chatter and listen, listen, listen when somebody is trying to reach you, even if they're speaking no words at all.

Tell me, Noah, am I listening to you?