In my town we have a team of highly trained professionals who every year round up and evaluate, for a period of a few months, all of the prospective kindergarteners. The kindergarten evaluation machine is gearing up now, gathering information, and starting next January, it will be in high gear.
First the town identifies all the children who will turn five before December 1st. (This is a bit controversial, some districts require the child have their fifth birthday before September 1st). Then the parent and child are scheduled to come in for evaluation for readiness. I experienced this evaluation system with awe for two of my kids – there was first a meeting evaluating both mom and child, then orientation, and then the children were put in groups and brought into a classroom situation on two different days to see how they did. It was fun for both of us.
But when we got to Abigail, her birthday was just after the cut-off, on December 21st. This was a dilemma for my husband and me because, as the youngest of four, she was certainly ready to go to school with her friends that she had been in preschool with for two years. Some of my friends asked me – what is your problem?– don’t send her! she only will qualify next year, let her have another year of being carefree. (That was when kindergarteners looked old) But my problem was I worried because most of her preschool friends were going to kindergarten and she was right with them cognitively, and socially, and she was ready to go.
So I notified the teacher in charge of the process (because the older three kids were in that school, I knew everybody) and they said since Abigail missed the cut-off, the procedure is that I have to ask for a waiver and my daughter has to have an interview with the school psychologist to see if she is ready. That didn’t sound too intimidating, because I knew the school psychologist who was a lovely, caring, sympathetic man.
But things did not go too well. For some reason, my chattering four year old clammed up when we walked through the psychologist’s office door. It was like the joke where the guy tries to prove his dog can talk and he asks him questions where the answer always sounds life ROOF ROOF, (who is the greatest baseball player of all time? RUTH RUTH) until all the people leave in disgust and the guy yells at the dog who then says, “I refuse to say ‘Reggie Jackson’, Mr. October just wasn’t as good.”
Abigail would not even say Roof Roof!
She clammed up when we walked in; she would not say a word. She stepped behind me and clutched my skirt, looking shyly out at the psychologist who was doing his best to be friendly and get her to talk. Not only was her mouth clamped shut, she practically started sucking her thumb. Then he figured that maybe he intimidated my daughter, and perhaps she would talk to his female psychologist intern? The intern came out with inkblots and tried to get her to talk about the pretty pictures, but Abigail was not having any of it.
I stood there awkwardly trying to get her to engage. “What’s the matter honey? Let’s talk to the nice man, the nice lady, look at the nice pictures?”
Abigail refused to open her mouth.
The psychologist said, “Well, we gave it a try, I guess she is just not ready.”
I was hopping mad. I looked at my daughter.
She kicked my boot, and said into my skirt, “You are both wearing cowboy boots.”
He looked at me, and then bent down and said, “Do you have cowboy boots at home too? Do you like cowboy boots?”
But she clammed back up again and we left in disgrace.
As soon as I got her buckled into the car seat and jumped into the driver’s seat I blew up. “What in the world was going on? Abigail, why wouldn’t you talk to the psychologist?”
I started the car and turned around to back out of the parking space.
“All I can say is,” she said, “kindergarten is going to be awfully empty next year.”
“What?” I asked.
“Does everybody who wants to go to kindergarten have to talk to that guy?” she asked, and then without waiting for an answer said, “because if so, none of my friends are going to be able to go. Who would talk to that guy?”
I started laughing, in spite of my anger. I guess she fooled me.
The good news is that when I called the psychologist and told him what Abigail said (basically – without the “that guy” language) he laughed and said maybe she is ready! He was nice enough to say he would pass that along to the head teacher who jointly made the readiness decisions with him and let me know. When I talked to the teacher she was laughing about the story too, and said she would bring my daughter in to be tested with the rest of the prospective students, without pointing out her age to any of the teachers making the evaluation, and she how she measured up.
I blinked several times.
Now, on Monday, she graduates from college!
Did I do the right thing, putting her a bit ahead?
Who knows? Maybe life would have been easier if she was one of the oldest and the smartest and most mature in her class. After all, in her grade, some of the children were well over a year older than she. AND she had to share her birthday with quadruplets (!) who always turned a year older on that day. But on the other hand she was constantly trying to keep up with her older siblings, and being one additional grade behind them would have meant she would feel that much further behind and never be in the same school at the same time with any of her siblings.
Abigail was always a wise old soul, observing what the older kids did, and then jumping in. She was not the baby that let her older siblings do everything for her; she walked and talked early – probably just to catch up to them! They all took piano lessons from the infamous Katie Raymond with the piano socks – and three year old Abigail took them too.
Maybe no one gets a smooth ride anyway. She had great grades, got into a good college and made a lot of friends along the way. Who could ask for anything more? In high school, through her sports teams, she mostly hung out with girls even older — in the grade above her!
So in the end, who knows what Kindergarten Evaluation tells us. On the eve of her graduation I could not be prouder of Abigail and her accomplishments, of the poised, intelligent, caring, thoughtful young women she turned out to be. I wish it had been easier for her – but isn’t that what all mother’s think about their children’s growing-up process?