Now, lately, for a variety of reasons, Helen's had a hard time saying good-bye at drop-off. There are tears and if no tears she looks up with big sad eyes. It's been very hard on all of us. But, I have to say, on the one hand, I was delighted with her perfunctory "bye-bye" this morning. On the other, it made me a little sad. Like, she's off on her own in the world. Of course that's what's supposed to happen. Helping her skip away and do her own work is the stuff of parenting. But still, it's hard, and feeling the little stab of "I will miss her" called to mind this article in yesterday's Home section of the New York Times. It describes a version of home schooling, or "unschooling," that some parents opt for here in New York. When you home-un-school, you don't follow a curriculum, you let the day unfold. You use the City as your classroom. You spend a lot of time with your still small children.
Apparently, Joanne Rendell, who was featured in the Times article had written an article for Babble about her choice to home-un-school and it generated a torrent of feedback. People were upset, outraged, even, that parents would let 5 or 6 year olds sleep in and then not send them to school. Some were jealous, too, about all that extra time they got together, and I think that's the big thing here.
When I've been imagining kindergarten, trying to figure out which one would be best for each of my kids, every so often I let in the hard stab of "please stay 4!" not (just) because applying to kindergarten is so complicated, but because 4 is wonderful. And because when school starts, life will zoom even faster. It'll be like water through my fingers. Even last year when I got the notice that my kids (or one of them) would be going to school five days a week, I felt sad. Really, really sad. I think this feeling, this nostalgia for the early years of parenting, might be especially potent for those who have either one child or just twins, because you go through everything once, and then you're done. Not that with twins what you go through isn't different for each child, but I imagine it's different when you have kids of different ages. Phases come and go and mostly that's great, but when they go they're gone for good.
I love watching my kids unfold, but it's a textured kind of pleasure, because change, especially in small children is complicated.
I'm not saying that the parents who choose to un-school do so because they can't separate from their kids. I'm saying the passionate responses to the idea of un-schooling, and the appeal of it for some, might lie in circumventing, in one way, the loss that comes with kindergarten. It's exciting when school begins, but it also marks the very end of one long phase of family life. I think we ignore the complexity of that end at our own peril. But no matter what, there it goes. Bye-bye.