Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Back To School

Twenty-five years ago Lucy started as a kindergartner at Park School. Her sisters followed and I was a parent there for fourteen years in a row. When Allie graduated from fifth grade I cried because I was so sad to leave Park.  Now I'm back.

For the first time in my life I'm not a student or a parent. I'm a teacher. Well, an assistant teacher. I am  "Miss Wendy".  Selling candles is all well and good and I still do that three afternoons a week, but selling candles doesn't mean anything. It isn't twice as good to sell two candles.

A few months ago I had an ugly realization. Because I have my health benefits through marriage and my husband is seven years older, there will soon be an insurance problem. You’ve heard of Medi-Gap? I will have my own, personal Medi-Gap. Eric will have Medicare coverage in four years. I won't be eligible for eleven. How will I be insured in the interim? This concept really depressed me.

Somehow I thought that after a lifetime of caring for others, I would be cared for too. Not so. Working part time with no benefits is awesome, if you already have benefits and don't need them. It was a purely practical decision to look for work in academia. I was open to working just about any job in any local school district that would ultimately lead to a position with benefits and maybe a small pension. I didn't know I was going back home.

The fact that I am in kindergarten in my neighborhood school where my daughters had so many happy years is sweet. It’s eerie how much I feel the ghosts of their younger selves when I’m on the playground or walking through the halls. The children are SO adorable. They are engaged and imaginative and funny as hell. One of the five year olds announced that because she is Jewish she will be out for all the holidays. Then she paused and said, "Except Valentine's Day!"

So much has changed in a generation, yet much is the same. The families are larger. Gone are the days of zero population growth. Big families are now a status symbol. Three and four children are common. Parental units range from overly protective to seemingly indifferent. That has not changed. The Dads are young and cute. Some of the mothers are so skinny you just want to force a cupcake on them.

Kindergartners are still really short. Sometimes they miss their mommies and cry over the strangest things. They have trouble keeping their shoes tied. That anyone would still wear shoes with laces amazes me. That's what Velcro is for, people. When Lucy was in third grade she had a wonderful Japanese teacher who made them take their shoes off in the classroom. A couple days of that and Lucy demanded I buy her shoes with Velcro. She was not about to waste precious minutes of recess tying her shoelaces.

I am lucky to be working with a wonderful teacher. Someone described her as being like Snow White with birds fluttering around her head. It's an apt image. The program is very academic and structured. There are high expectations for behavior, which dovetail with my own philosophy. School at this level a wonderful break from technology, not just for me, but for the students as well. It's gratifying that I have yet to see a single kindergartner whip out a cell phone. They are learning to read and write the old fashioned way, through repetition and experience.

The principal is named Andy and so is the guinea pig. My first cold has come and gone. I got a flu shot. I pedal home for lunch and take a short nap before going to work at the shop. My afternoons are so peaceful compared to the frenetic mornings.

This job with the school doesn't have enough hours to qualify for benefits, so that problem is as yet unsolved. Maybe something else will come up in the district in the future. For now I get to be part of magic being created in the classroom. I am the magician's assistant.