By Geralyn Broder Murray for SheKnows.com
We're out to dinner on a weeknight -- which seems like a great idea until you are actually seated at the restaurant table with two tired, hungry children who have already lapsed into laments of "When will my food get here?" even before the server has left with your order, most likely to pledge herself to a life of childlessness -- when Reese, my first-grader, goes first in telling about her day. She's sad she missed out on something when she was off in the second-grade classroom for an hour, a new thrice-weekly attempt to up her level of intellectual challenge at school.
"But while I was gone," she says, taking a sip of milk from her plastic cup for dramatic effect, "While I was gone they read a book on Abraham Lincoln!"
(The nerve of that first grade teacher, continuing to educate the class without Reese in attendance.)
"Honey," I say, in what I hope is my compassionate voice and not my I'm-so-exhausted-I-wish-I-could-be-in-the-bathtub voice. "The class is going to do things without you if you're gone for a whole hour a day, three days a week. Besides, I thought you really enjoyed being in Ms. N's class? That you wanted to be more challenged at school?"
There is an agreeable nodding of the head: Yes, but I just wish I didn't have to miss something.
And for the millionth time, I wonder whether to push or hold.
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Both of our children have late birthdays -- Reese is in December, Finn in November. Reese missed the Kindergarten cut-off date by ten days, so there was no option but to have her enter Kindergarten at almost six. Finn has the option of entering at four, as his birthday's just before the cut-off, but few in our community push boys forward with late birthdays, so we've decided to go with the grain and hold him until he too is almost six.
Reese is bright. Her mind is a huge open net where every new piece of information that floats past her is seized quickly and turned over and over like the gem that it is, analyzed and studied. She devours books and numbers, she is memorizing all of the state capitals, she is learning to sing and play the piano, she writes beautifully and has a gift for making arguments that often render me speechless -- for a really good time. She likes to practice her multiplication tables.
Reese's school has only one class per grade, so the entire group moves on together each year and truly, she lucked out with this collection of schoolmates. They are smart and playful and fun and get to be together until they finish sixth grade. There is K., her love, as she calls him, and her besties: M., V., and A. They are thick as thieves and when the possibility of her moving on a grade without them occurs in conversation, the idea seems so wrong. She may be smart -- perhaps her brain is ready for second grade -- but what about her little first grade spirit?
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And then there's Finn, my clever and mostly together four-year-old, who is in Pre-Kindergarten and is scheduled to stay there for another year, yet it seems like he too is ready for more. He meets the basic requirements of Kindergarten it seems: He can sit still, read "the" and "and" and "frog", he's never been in the "cool-off pond" -- not even once. The thought of him staying in the "little kid" class for another year worries me. Will his mind glaze over being surrounded by play dough and Legos for another 12 months?
Where is the line between challenging their brains and nurturing their hearts? And why does it seem to move daily?
This is where my helicopter parenting descends -- I try to look to my children for clues: They are happy, they hum through their days, they sleep well and eat well, they run to me when I pick them up at the end of the day, but they hug their teachers, too. They love learning -- they think it's fun, like dancing or skipping or riding bikes. So I suppose I am not holding them back or pushing them forward. I am letting them lead the way while I pay attention, while I help steer, stowing away snacks and Band-Aids for the journey.
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