My two boys are in first grade. I spent the better part of their Kindergarten year complaining about school stuff.
I guess you could call me a reformed complainer. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of stuff about first grade and elementary school that annoys me. Sometimes I lose my patience and let the sighs fly. But this year, I’m making an effort not to do that.
Mostly because I realize my kids are listening, watching, and modeling their behavior after mine.
I have three kids. There’s a small age gap between kid number one and kid number three. And when I say small, I mean 18 years.
I know. That’s a lot.
When my boys started school, I was smug. A know-it-all. I was a seasoned mom. I knew the drill. My very presence radiated been-there, done-that confidence. I would be the go-to mom all the young moms would turn to for wisdom.
I’d be the Yoda of Kindergarten moms.
Yeah, not so much. Kindergarten had changed.
Maybe I didn’t like that I was out of my element and that I wasn’t the one in the know. Maybe I just don’t like change. I wish I could say I adjusted and got the hang of things quickly, but the reality is that I spent my kids’ first year of public education grumbling a lot and snarking up a storm on social media.
“Why is Kindergarten the new first grade?”
“Why are we celebrating the 100th day of school?”
“Why does my child need 26 glue sticks? Are they building a full-scale model of the White House out of glue?”
This year, I vowed to be different. I’m not blindly accepting the status quo just because. I know how to voice my concern to teachers and school administrators, but I try to distinguish between concerns and complaints for complaints’ sake.
I could choose a private school that might align more closely with my philosophies, but that’s not in the budget right now and maybe not ever. I could commit to home-schooling to ensure I’d be the one calling the shots, but for too many reasons to count, I know that’s not the right choice for our family.
So, I’ve bucked up, adjusted my attitude, and hitched up my big girl bloomers. Here’s what I’m (mostly) done complaining about:
If I were in charge of first grade curriculum there would be no homework. Guess what? I’m not in charge, and I’m not a teacher.
I’ve heard plenty of expert criticism of elementary school homework. I’ve heard of parents “opting out” of homework for their child. Would that poison my relationship with the classroom teacher? I think it would. Would their teachers take it out on my kids? I doubt it. Would they still move along to the second grade if they didn’t turn in their homework? Likely so.
But here’s the thing: school is as much about learning life skills as it is about reading and math. Life has rules and structure, and sometimes we have to do things we don’t like to do. I don’t want to send my children the message that it’s OK to diss the rules of their classroom. Like it or not, homework will be something my kids deal with for the next 12 years or more, and hearing me bash it just isn’t productive.
I could wallpaper my bedroom with all of the fundraising flyers that come home in my kids’ folders. There are opportunities to sell popcorn, cookie dough, coffee mugs, and other stuff that’s sure to be some combination of overpriced, cheaply made, or fattening. Then we have “partner nights.” Our school teams up with McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, Taco Cabana, and more on a regular basis. Eating at the designated restaurant on the designated night gives the school a kickback. See also: you get to eat at a fast food place that’s three times more crowded than normal because (what seems like) the entire school turned out to eat Happy Meals and you can’t find a seat.
Our school does a great job at planting the seeds that participation in school fundraisers is fun and good. My kids wave brochures featuring bazillion-dollar tubs of cookie dough in my face, assuring me this is a “very important paper.” I dread the little cards that announce “tonight is CiCi’s Pizza night!” and then having to break it to my kids that nope, they’ll be eating the stuff in the crock pot.
While I don’t love school fundraising, I admit it serves a purpose and covers a few things taxes don’t, like grounds beautification and special events. I explain to my kids that we’re not buying that cookie dough because it’s too expensive. Then I buy stuff at the grocery store to make cookies without having to consider selling an organ.
I do suck it up and take them to fast food nights once in a while, though. Eating chicken nuggets or pizza in the same off-campus space as your teachers and friends is a super big deal when you’re a little kid. We don’t go every time, but we go enough to make my kids happy. And that’s important.
The Carpool Line
No matter how many memes the internet spits out on the suck factor of carpool lines, carpool lines are going to just suck and we should just all get over it. That clueless parent driving in the wrong entrance will either figure it out or they won’t. They might never “get it,” and blowing up, giving them the side eye, or vague snarking on your community Facebook page isn’t going to make the carpool line easier or more tolerable for anyone. And, snarking on Facebook might make you feel better for a minute, but it still doesn’t do any good.
Weigh your options for busing, biking, or carpooling, and if the result is that you’re still sitting in that line every day, find a way to deal (I recommend the Pinterest app) and you’ll be happier.
Red Ribbon Week and Themed Days
We just finished with Red Ribbon Week. On the heels of that came the fiftieth day of school, which is now a thing, in case you didn’t know. Last year, I blew off most everything with “Pfft, my kid isn’t going to learn better because he wears pajamas to school” dismissiveness. I threw together “100 days” outfits because the 27 notes I got in the folder about the 100th day of school kind of wore me down.
This year, I made an effort, albeit grudgingly at first. Kids are aware when they’re the one not participating in whatever thing is going on, and being the one not participating stinks. I didn’t go Pinterest overachiever nutso, but I made sure my kids were a part of things. No, wearing crazy socks in first grade doesn’t guarantee drug-free teens, but you know what? My kids had fun because this stuff is fun. And that’s good enough for me.
Book Fairs, Bike Rodeos, School Supply Lists…Oh, My!
There’s always something going on at school that involves opening my wallet or requires me to remember to do something. I remember starting Kindergarten with a pack of eight crayons, a pot of paste, and a couple of Big Chief writing tablets. This year, I spent over $200 buying everything on the supply list to get two kids ready to start school.
I’ll probably never be in love with the way elementary school has changed, and my idea of what school should look like will probably always be stuck somewhere in the late 90s. But you know what? Resolving to dial back on the grumbling helps me work better with my kids’ teachers. My more positive attitude has made everything easier. I have my moments. Sometimes I’ll see some slip of paper in the folders reminding me to do or bring such and such. I find my eyes rolling so far back in my head that I think I might catch a glimpse of what’s behind me. Old habits die hard, but attitude really goes a long way. There are some days where I even feel like I have it all together and I think to myself that “Yoda of the second grade moms” might be an attainable goal. Maybe. Less complaining means a happier mom who is setting a better example for her kids. Besides, frowning gives you wrinkles, and no one likes that.