My oldest child, Jacob, starts kindergarten next month. The public elementary school he will be attending has a Spanish immersion program in which roughly half of the school day is taught in Spanish and half in English. I was very excited when I found out about this program because I’ve always wanted my kids to master a second language. Besides having a bilingual parent, which he doesn’t, what better way to accomplish that goal than to start young? And to have it right there at his public school. Perfect.
One of the primary takeaways from my experience travelling in Europe was just how limiting it is to only speak one language. I tried to use my high school German to order at a McDonald’s in Switzerland once and failed spectacularly. The teenage cashier looked at me like I had three heads and he couldn’t understand any of them. I believe I used the wrong word for “no.” And then there was the time Michelle and I sat at a table in a French restaurant for a good hour or so because we didn’t know how to ask for the check. If only I had had a language immersion program when I was in elementary school! How different my life would be. Luckily, Jacob was going to set things right for me. Or so I thought.
We learned this week that he didn’t get into the Spanish program. About forty students were selected in a lottery from the applicant pool. From the sounds of it, his number came up almost last among the fifty-five or so applicants.
I was surprised at just how disappointed I was. Driving home from the school, I was nearly in tears. And while I knew that the wanting him to learn another language thing was real, I suspected something else was behind my strong reaction.
It hit me later that night when we were driving home from my parents’ house. The sunset was just fading into darkness as we drove west toward home. The boys were in the back seat.
“Look at the sky, Bennett,” Jacob exclaimed, “It’s so beautiful.”
“It looks like someone is making orange juice,” Bennett replied.
And you know what? I think he was right. I’m not sure what making orange juice looks like, exactly, but I think it was kind of that. Yellow-orange patches of sky were flanked by puffs of low-hanging dark clouds. The black silhouettes of palm trees loomed against the fading sky. Opaque sheets of rain were visible in the distance with swirly gray clouds layered on top. In other words, making orange juice.
As much as they drive me mad some days, I thought, I’m really going to miss this when they get older. All of this. The rides in the car. Listening in on the ease of their conversation. The wonder. The uninhibited joy.
And while kindergarten is by no means the end of all this, it serves as a significant signpost. Perhaps the first important marker on the long journey of growing up. It’s also a step I’m dreading more than a little.
I don’t remember a lot about elementary school, but one moment I do vividly remember is the day a bully set his sights on me at recess. I was in first grade and he was older. He seemed much older, but was probably only in second or third grade. He started following me around on the playground.
“Why are you following him?” one of my classmates asked.
“Because I’m going to kick his butt,” the boy replied.
And that was it. Nothing else happened, but it was enough for me. And although that boy probably never thought of that moment again, I remembered it forever. Whenever I saw him in the cafeteria, I made sure to speed past. And every day at recess, for the next several years at least, until I was certain the boy had moved onto middle school, I made sure to keep an eye out.
Stay the Night by Green Day came on the radio in the car as we were driving out of my parents’ town and into the wide expanse of flat, open land between us and home. Fat rain drops began to fall on the windshield and the wipers squeaked back and forth across the glass. The boys started to sing along. I listen to Green Day music a lot, so they’ve acquired a bit of my good taste.
“Say, stay the night, because we’re running out of time.”
Then it all clicked. We’re running out of time. We’re running out of time. We’re running out of time.
Even though the hours and days often feel endless when your children are young, particularly in the summer when it feels like the sun is always up and there is no school to break the time into more manageable chunks, the months and years steadily and relentlessly tick past. Suddenly, here we stand on the brink of the elementary school years. It’s now just weeks away and I’m worried. I’m not ready.
We’re running out of time.
This is what it was all about. I was using the prospect of the Spanish program to mask my anxiety. I was using it to get me excited about an event that I’m not really looking forward to. So, when it was snatched away, it broke me more than a little.
But, there is some good news: I’m not the one who needs be ready. This is Jacob’s moment. When he walks through the glass doors on the first day of school, he’s going to be excited. And anxious, too. That’s okay, though, because I’ll be here to help him navigate through the anxiety. And luckily, he is much stronger than I ever was. It amazes me every day how much he’s grown in such a short time. From a shy toddler to an expressive and borderline outgoing little boy. He’s going to be amazing, whether he ever learns to speak Spanish or not. Now it’s just left for me to try to be amazing, too. Or at least good enough.