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Mommy’s Pre-K Lesson

In between rhyming words, feeding the class pet, and playing with friends, my son Will has picked up a new skill at pre-K.

Self-assuredness.

He’s what his teacher calls “an independent thinker.” At parent orientation, she told us that that’s what she wanted her four-year-old charges to become.

Will can pick out his own clothes, can usually get dressed alone (although brand-new jeans are sometimes too stiff for him button) and, most importantly, can go to the potty by himself. And he enjoys showing his eighteen-month-old brother, Daniel, how big boys brush their teeth.

Roll all that into a three-and-half-foot-tall problem-solver, who can think on his own and not always have to wait for me to suggest a solution or do something for him? I totally want one.

Then I got my wish.

I picked him up from school one day and cheerily asked him what he had and his classmates had done that day. “I don’t want to tell you,” he said.

Hmm. I must have misunderstood him because of all the traffic noise. So I ask again.

“I don’t want to tell you, Mommy.”

The more I pressed, the more emphatic the answer. I spent the rest of the ride home wondering why he wouldn’t tell me, and summarily dismissing my hypotheses. Did he have an accident at school? No, he’s wearing the same clothes he had on this morning. Did he get into trouble for something? His teacher, Miss Lynn, would have mentioned if he had. Was he teased by another child? She would have mentioned that, too.

Clearly, something happened. Last school year, three-year-old Will always told me how he played dump trucks with Luca, sat on the swings with Kyra, or dug in the sand with Ellen. Now I’m totally shut out.

Must be that Miss Lynn. What is she doing to my baby—my baby!—all day?

But as the days wore on, I realized it wasn’t just after school. I’d suggest different things that I knew he liked, and he’d have no interest.

“Hey, Will, let’s go the playground.”

“I don’t want to go to the playground. I want to go to the children’s museum.”

I knew something had to be wrong when, one day after church, I suggested we stop for pizza.

“No, Mommy,” Will said in between nudging Daniel in his car seat to keep him from nodding off. “I want a turkey sandwich for lunch.”

“Will, are you sure? Let’s go have pizza.”

“No, I don’t want pizza. I want a turkey sandwich.”

“Well,” I reluctantly said, “I guess we could go home and have turkey sandwiches.”

I was positive he’d change his mind as we passed the pizza place. But no. He happily ate his sandwich and yogurt once we got home, drank his chocolate milk and went off to play.

I started rethinking whether I really wanted an independent child. It was so much easier when he was younger, when I was the only one who had a say about where we’d go and what we’d do. Now I have a four-year-old who will tell me his favorite part of a book, ask if there are seconds on the corn, and hold actual full conversations. And if he doesn’t like something he’ll tell you.

But he’ll also clear his plate after eating, zip up his own jacket, and tell me that fourty-seven is four tens and seven more.

That’s what Miss Lynn is doing to my baby. She’s treating him and his classmates like the people they are, not the baby part of me secretly wishes he still was. As she teaches Will about the world, she’s subtly tutoring me as well. My first lesson? That I can hang on to the apron as tightly as I want, but Will’s already shredded the strings with his child-safe scissors.

I was still struggling with that idea the morning I loaded Daniel back into the car after dropping off Will. His class had just come out to the playground, and I sat in the car and watched. Before too long Will rode by the playground’s gate on a bike. He stopped for a minute and stared right at me.

Busted.

I rolled down the window and said goodbye. “Bye, Mommy!” he sang out. “I’m going to have a great day!” With that he pedaled away, a classmate chasing behind and laughing.

Time for both of us to get to our class work for the day.

Snip. 

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