The sheer mortality of it all! HOW? How, I ask you, is it possible that I, the very man who seemingly just weeks ago scaled spider-man style down the eight stories of his college dormitory with nothing but handrails and a headlamp (for fun, I might add!) could be standing here with a kindergartner. It is positively unthinkable. WHERE did the time go?! On the occasion of a birthday, someone will often remark that “it’s just another day” in order to ameliorate the sometimes negative emotions one experiences upon another year’s passage, but this can’t just be another day because what it feels like is a futuristic vortex, sucking me irresistibly toward the grave. Since having children, I have often been aware of the dramatic change it has brought about in terms of my relation to time (something I hope to write about in the future; given the above considerations– I’m sure I’ll soon be dead), but no moment has been so palpably disorienting as the first day of kindergarten. I have never walked away from a schoolhouse in a state of such bewilderment and confusion… and I once took a seminar entitled, “The Aesthetics of the Sublime”. Also, Algebra II.
… and another thing, WHO in the hell decided this is the way it’s supposed to be?! I have spent the better part of the last six years caught up in the daily enterprise of vigilantly overseeing the immediate care, rudimentary education, and character development of my child- attentively watching this Being unfold before my very (often bloodshot) eyes- and you expect me to tra-la-la into a wholly unbeknownst, public forum and drop her off there- where she’ll spend 2/3 of her waking hours for 2/3 of the year… for the next dozen years (which amounts to more than twice the time she’s been alive!)- with a couple of government employees who are outnumbered 20-1 by a peer group that will, odds are, wield the bulk of influence in her further self-construction over the course of the year? HOW can this be right?! When we left the back-to-school open house last week my immediate instinct was to rush away from the place with my family like a man on the lam from the Russian mob, rifle through our house for the essentials, and abscond to some quaint little village in the Swiss Alps where we would raise dairy goats and rediscover the wonders of Latin. And my kid goes to a great school with a fantastic teacher!
… and what’s more, WHAT am I supposed to do with myself? “You’re gonna have so much free time now!’, they said. It’s true. The coming months will provide me, in many ways, with an elasticity and openness that I have deeply missed. But that joyous fact is offset radically by intense questions about what new purpose might be undertaken- coupled with the reclamation project of reacquainting myself more fully with subjective passions and interests that have largely lain dormant since the pre-kid years. And everyone keeps piping up about this newfound “time” as if I am entering into my just reward after a long haul- that I ought to be feeling the refreshment and anticipation of a sailor stepping on shore for his first day of furlough or a shopkeeper letting down after the ceaselessness of winter’s retail. Instead, I feel like a man who has, all of a sudden, been released from a high and holy calling, dismissed by dint of social normativity from quite possibly my life’s most profound work.
Kindergarten can be a difficult time for a child. The bigness of the landscape and the first, fresh whiffs of possibility can at once exhilarate the soul and overwhelm it. I fully expected my daughter to hear whispers of questions within her such as:
Who am I now?
What will I be when I grow up?
Am I doing this right?
Can they all tell that I’m afraid?
What I didn’t foresee, on that inaugural day of her formal educational career, was to find these very same quandaries waiting for me when I came back through the door of this now-empty home. It looks like I’m the one with homework to do. At least, until 2:30.
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