[FATHERHOOD] This Isn’t Kindergarten Anymore

With the start of the school year, Allie and Avery’s school hosted its annual, Parent Orientation Night. Even though this was Avery’s first year of school, she had already been well-versed on what to expect, having spent most of her summer being drilled by Allie on the nuances of elementary school. As a testament to Allie’s thoroughness (or fledgling neuroticism—we’re not sure which, at this age), her instruction included full dress rehearsals, complete with a mock schoolroom in their bedroom. Eavesdropping on snippets of interaction, I noticed that Allie took her role of teacher seriously, exhibiting all the dedication of a method actor immersing herself into the character to achieve utmost believability.

“Does the teacher really yell at you like that?” Avery asked from her seat in the bedroom/classroom.

“Yes! She does!” Allie screamed, reminding me of a totalitarian nun carrying a large ruler adorned with the notches and names of students gone missing. “Is your arm broken, Miss Avery? Because, if you’d like to speak, you. Raise. Your. HAND! Now, tell me the Latin breakdown for the word monochromatic, or you can forget about recess. And don’t you dare cry this time; there’s no mommy to wipe away your sniveling tears anymore. Not in kindergarten.”

I have to admit, I was impressed to see that Allie’s lessons on how to be the perfect kindergartener covered not only pedagogy and content material, but classroom rules and behavior as well.

“You certainly can’t do that! Now, put your skirt down.” The way Allie rolled her eyes when she’s exasperated is so cute. “And don’t even think about doing the thing with your nose that you like to do when you think no one’s looking. They’re always watching, Avery. Remember that, or you’ll never make it to where I’m at.”

Sure, Allie’s regiment seemed demanding on the surface, maybe even cruel, but I let it continue with the best of intentions. Allie was establishing an impossible standard for her younger sister to live up to, so the real thing would be a breeze. After all, wasn’t that how older siblings showed love?

During these sessions, Avery slumped her shoulders and let her eyes sag to the floor. “Then what can I do in school?” she asked.

In response, Allie unfolded her arms and held out two fingers. “Number one is to listen,” she said, closing her pointer finger and leaving the middle one prominently displayed three inches from her sister’s nose. “And two: shut your pie-hole!” Allie left the finger up for a moment before folding her arms again and resuming the lesson on photokinesis.

My wife referred to Allie as a Kindergarten Life Coach, but I thought she was closer to a battle-hardened sergeant running fresh recruits through their paces in preparation for the rigors of combat. Like war, kindergarten, is hell, or at least it was for me thirty-some years ago. Allie sounded just like the teachers of my early childhood—eerily so. Because of the similarity, I took no issue with her rants spurred on by the discovery of an unsharpened crayon among Avery’s box of 64 colors or a half-eaten, jelly donut hidden in her backpack.

Let me see your “school face,” Avery! AHHHH!

Ashley, however, being a big, liberal softy, finally interceded after Avery came to the dinner table wearing a sign, designating her as “Private Pile.”

“How would you feel if your teacher did that to you, Allie?” her mom asked. “I think your sister’s going to be perfectly fine at school, without your help.”

“Nice job decorating the sign with American flag stickers, though,” I added, in a veiled show of support for her methodology.

Despite all of Allie’s zeal, in the end she only meant to look out for her little protégée. I’m sure that, at kindergarten graduation, it would be Allie who sheds the first tear and gives the longest hug to the latest member of the family to achieve this educational milestone. Unfortunately, such a touching moment was a long way off, and getting further by the day, as it appeared that all of Allie’s guidance had been for naught.

During the first few weeks of classes, Avery got in trouble several times for talking out of turn, lying to her teachers, and bringing a copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook (it’s her mom’s) to share time. Learning of her sister’s subpar behavior discouraged Allie. When they got off the bus, Allie shook her head in bewilderment, a stark contrast to her cheery little sister, who handed me yet another note from the teacher, explaining that Avery had missed part of recess for pointing out her vulva to classmates who had already filed one harassment complaint against her. Avery’s actions were so blatant, I wondered if it represented a passive-aggressive form of retribution aimed at her older sister for the summer months of humiliation. If my theory was true, the strategy appeared to be achieving its objective, because Allie hardly ever mentioned kindergarten, except to say how much she missed it. Then again, Allie may have purely been struggling to adjust to the first grade, and her sister was just destined for a lifetime of medication and a long list of military academies.

If you’d like to read the rest of “This Isn’t Kindergarten Anymore” from Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka, you can go to the book’s official website, SugarMilkBook.com for more information.

Image credit: Piotr Lewandowski

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