I wake up groggy, uncomfortable, and more than a little annoyed to still be pregnant. My second baby’s due date is still four days away, but he was supposed to be born early. After months of deceptively convincing Braxton-Hicks contractions, I was sure he would arrive well before 40 weeks and that a birthday before September was a given. But it’s September first, and I’m still pregnant.
I text my mom: “As long as he’s born before midnight, he still makes the cutoff.”
The kindergarten cutoff that is. I have a plan, you see, a vision of three children neatly spaced two years apart and filing into their school years with the same two years between grades. They’ll be just close enough to overlap interests and friend groups, but just far apart enough to have their own identities. So far, I’ve been doing remarkably well in shaping life to mimic that picture in my head—married at 26, first baby at 28, second arriving any day (today, ideally) at 30.
When I was pregnant with Gracie, the first baby, I was terrified she’d come early. We’d sold our starter house and were under contract on our forever house, but the closing date kept getting pushed further and further back, and it looked like we’d be bringing a baby home to my parents’ house instead of our own. We finally moved in just a few weeks before Gracie was born, and I was grateful for the eight extra days I was pregnant past her due date. The rest of the house was a mess of unpacked boxes and in-progress projects when we left the hospital, but even at nine months pregnant, I’d managed to get the nursery fully unpacked and decorated just like my Pinterest inspiration boards.
Meanwhile, Gracie’s little brother is threatening to throw a serious wrinkle in all my careful planning. The kindergarten cutoff is today, September 1st. Gracie is an August baby, destined to start kindergarten in the fall of 2020, and if Logan isn’t born before midnight, he won’t be five years old by the first day of school in 2022.
Hopeful that today may yet be the big one, I waddle down the hall to Gracie’s bedroom and pull a T-shirt that reads “AMAZING sister” over her head to sway my luck—or my uterus. It doesn’t work. As if to make it abundantly clear that he has no intention at all of going along with my naive little school-year plan, Logan hangs tight in the womb through his due date plus a whopping nine days after.
But not to worry, I’ve made use of those long, miserable final days of pregnancy to research the certified kindergarten program offered by our daycare. One of their key selling points? A later cutoff date. In December. Problem solved.
It’s a hot July day, and instead of driving straight home from daycare with my three kids four and under, I’m picking up Pizza Hut and taking them to the park. We can’t go home until 6:30 when the last showing of the day will be over and all the strangers will have cleared out of our house. So, dinner tonight is al fresco on the finest picnic blanket my SUV trunk has to offer. The big kids inhale their pizza and scramble over to the playground equipment. The baby, well, toddler I guess—she turned one yesterday—settles into my lap to suck down a baby food pouch while I sweat from the sun and her body heat.
To the kids, the commotion of this summer is all one big adventure they don’t fully grasp. Daddy doesn’t live with us anymore, we’re selling our house, and we’re going to move to a new one. “Oh good,” Gracie interjected when I explained, “this house is old now; I’m excited for a new one.”
My own picture-perfect plan has crumbled—married at 26, babies at 28, 30, and 32, filed for divorce at 33—but I’m doing my best to keep the kids’ views rosy. In private, I’m wrangling all the unsightly things I don’t want them or anyone else to see: like filing for an emergency custody order, putting sticky notes on furniture to show who’s keeping what, and the vice-like pressure in my chest that never loosens. I had been so confident early on that I was making all the right choices and following all the right dreams, but somehow everything has still gone terribly wrong, and now I’m faced with decisions I never imagined I would have to.
Whether I like it or not, this summer is an adventure. The house is under contract in under a week, and in what can only be divine intervention, I’m able to find and purchase a new place on my own. Gracie turns five, and we move out of the old place and into the new days later. We unpack boxes, explore our new neighborhood, and I set to work on a flurry of phone calls and emails to get Gracie squared away for kindergarten in our new school district. All three kids need to switch daycare locations too, and in between all the other paperwork and chaos, I tap out an email to our new director.
“This may seem silly,” I type, “but I’ve always planned for Logan to do the certified kindergarten program. And with the way it’s taking off right now with COVID and all that, I figured I might as well get him on the list for 2022 now. Can you mark him down for a spot?”
“Goodnight. Love you.” I flick off the light in the girls’ room and walk down the hall to Logan’s. He climbs up next to me into the corner reading chair in his room and hands me his bedtime book choice—one of many about Spider-Man. I read aloud with my index finger on the page, gliding under the words as I speak slowly and clearly. Once every page or so, I pause for him to sound out the next word in the sentence. But four months into kindergarten, he only knows a few basic sight words and hardly any letter sounds.
With a tiny class of six kids in a private program, this isn’t how kindergarten was supposed to go. I’ve gotten pretty good at overcoming obstacles though and have a plan—and a library hold—ready in no time. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons arrives at the library and takes a starring role each night at bedtime.
Never mind that I’m the opposite of a natural-born teacher. I signed up for a peer tutoring gig in college to make some minimum wage cash and only lasted two semesters. A few weeks into my first core education class for my Art Education major, I dropped the class and switched programs. When Gracie got her first pair of shoes with laces in place of VELCRO, I got frustrated trying to walk her through tying them and pulled up YouTube videos to do it for me.
I’m committed to do what it takes, though. “Logan is really making progress,” I text my mom, “I’m not enjoying a single minute of it, but it’s definitely making a difference.”
Gracie and Logan sit at the kitchen table and color a Bible story scene they got at Sunday school. I tell them to write their names at the top.
“Mommy,” Logan asks, “I can’t remember how to write my name. It’s L-O . . . L-O-A?”
“L-O-G-A-N.” I walk over to the table to watch him write, baffled that he doesn’t remember. Don’t they do this every day at school? You wouldn’t think so based on the clumsy crayon letters.
At bedtime, I leave 100 Easy Lessons on Logan’s side table, “Go pick a regular book for me to read to you tonight.”
“Why we not doing the learning book?”
“Let’s just give it a break and read something fun, okay?”
Logan still finds the book exciting, but I need a breather. I don’t have the patience or skill to teach him to read, no matter how easily the book lays out the steps. He struggles to blend the sounds, and despite my efforts to mimic what I overheard from Gracie’s COVID kindergarten learn-from-home days, teaching is not my gift. The truth is, if I don’t stop, I’m pretty sure I’ll suck all the joy out of learning for Logan.
But my friend Brittany is an actual, certified kindergarten teacher, and she already mentioned that she’d be willing to work with him over the summer on reading. I can still figure this out and get him on track for first grade in the fall.
But I never reach out to Brittany, and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons stays untouched for weeks. What’s more, I don’t contact the school to find out how to register for first grade.
There’s a pit in my stomach because I know this silly vision of my children spaced two grades apart is not at all about what’s best for Logan. I just don’t want to give up on something else I hoped for. I don’t want to admit I was wrong about sending him to kindergarten early despite his September birthday. And most of all, I don’t want to acknowledge just how much of my life is truly out of my control.
But I want Logan to love reading more.
At my desk, I fire up the kindergarten registration portal, register Logan for round two of kindergarten, and let go.