Milestones

Not long ago, the youngest successfully took his first steps. Around the same time, the eldest attended his first day of school.

Overnight, the baby and the boy evaporated, replaced by a toddler and a schoolboy. Time flies when you’re having fun and raising children (one of these things is not like the other), and the second you’ve got things figured out, the rules suddenly change, and the game grows in complexity.  

Now that the eldest has started school, a massive part of his upbringing and influence is outside our control, forever. Initially, that was a strange, sad concept; it almost felt cruel to send him off into the school system, a world of drudgery and apathetic adults.

When I was little, I hated school. But then again, I was a strange child, prone to drifting off into elaborate fantasies, particularly when being given detailed instructions.

My pleasant daydreams would inevitably be shattered by the panicked realization that the other children were confidently striding out of the classroom, toward an unknown destination, brandishing wire cutters or something. I’d run after them, unsure where to find wire cutters, quietly praying that the teacher would repeat herself.

But I was pretty good at concealing my ignorance; I didn’t memorize the order of the alphabet until I was ten, and somehow, nobody noticed. But I carried an intense paranoia of one day being stopped by the police and being forced to say the alphabet backward, or even forward, as they did to people on tv.

My childhood years were spent fretting about unspoken anxieties like that, and I was concerned that the eldest might have a similar experience. Well, not quite the same as mine because he’s not an introverted oddball – far from it, in fact.

But Kate started to get paranoid that the eldest wasn’t quite ready, and one day, out of the blue, proposed that we just not send him to school that year.

“Umm … is that legal?” I asked.

“Literally everybody does it now. Think about it – he’s going to be one of the youngest kids in his class. And I just read a poorly researched, hastily written article that said that, in kindergarten, the kids born later in the year are practically guaranteed to crumble from the pressures of the education system and become, like, losers when they get older.”

“And this is a thing people do?”

It absolutely is. “Redshirting,” the practice of waiting another year to enroll your child in school, so that they are more likely to be one of the oldest, tallest, and presumably, the most dominant, is relatively common. Pretty much every mother we asked had at least considered it, if not done it.

I’m not joking about the dominance thing – the mothers we talked to about this first-world phenomenon seemed convinced that human society is binary, divided into “leaders” and “followers,” and were determined to forge their four-year-old into a leader.

I’m not sure what “leader” in this context means. A CEO? Football captain? Assertive extrovert? An asshole?

I think they mean an asshole. But we went ahead and tossed the eldest in the education system regardless, and instantly, all of our fears were confirmed, especially when he had to be physically torn from Kate, finger by finger, sobbing like he was being thrown into Victorian-era foster care.

The stressful scene momentarily made me question whether I’d been too hasty in my dismissal of redshirting. What if he really was too young, and the pressure morphed him into one of those dreaded “followers?”

The next few days were intense. Kate fed her ever-growing guilt by reading more redshirting articles to assure herself that she’d done the wrong thing, while I anxiously asserted that he’d probably be fine and that we should just ignore the problem until it goes away. Incidentally, this pretty much sums up my approach to life.

Thankfully, my approach paid off; he chilled out after a week, made tons of friends, and nowadays when I drop him off he doesn’t even turn his head to say goodbye. I know he’s fine because when I ask him how his day went he says “fine,” and that he did “nothing.” Maybe these are early indications of leadership qualities, I don’t know.

The eldest has changed though; his vocabulary dramatically improved, his maturity level shot up, and he already knows the order of the alphabet. Now, when I pretend to be impressed with something unimpressive, he feels patronized rather than validated, which is oddly intimidating.

So, I pretty much just talk to him like an adult, and if he doesn’t understand my misinterpretation of today’s geopolitical landscape, well, that sucks for him.

Meanwhile, the youngest is slowly building a vocabulary, meaning that his adorable baby babble is doomed to disappear, sooner rather than later. Once walking and talking is mastered, you only have about a year of true innocence left.

Innocence is indescribably precious, not just because it is fleeting, but because of the golden smile that accompanies it. That expression of raw, unfiltered joy you see on the face of a beaming toddler just doesn’t exist in the adult world. Except, perhaps, when dangerously intoxicated.

But it isn’t quite the same.

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