THE BLOG
09/09/2014 01:32 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

On the Fifth Day of Kindergarten...

Karen Cordano

"The second and third day can be really bad," she told me. "That is when the reality starts to sink in." The best parenting advice comes from my friend whose kids are about a year older than mine. She is close enough to the struggles I'm facing to remember clearly, but far enough away to have gained some clarity.

T announced he had trouble listening after his first day of kindergarten. We told him listening was important and that he needed to do it. I talked to the teacher at drop-off the next day and was told, indeed, he had trouble. She also pointed out he was trying and it was a big transition. His second day was much better.

The morning of day three, he confided he didn't like kindergarten. Thanks to my friend, I was prepared. I encouraged him, told him I knew it was hard, but we were so proud of him. At pick up, he told me he had trouble listening again.

Day four he stayed at home. You get sick, you grab some tissues, you go to school. Those were the rules in my family growing up. I vowed to be the same way. Until the forth day of kindergarten. T had a fever and a sore throat. He spent most of the day passed out on the couch.

All weekend, we talked about reward systems and listening to his teacher. This morning, the tantrums started early. "I hate kindergarten!" he wailed. He kicked the stairs and punched the floor.

He whined as we got ready and into the car. He shouted in frustration as I parked. He started to cry when I unbuckled him and refused to move when I asked him to get out. Day five. Day five is the day reality set in for my boy.

The walk to school was about three blocks from the car. He sat on the sidewalk and told me he wasn't going. Families filed past and gave me sympathetic smiles. T's little brother C was perched on my shoulders, hauling T in my arms did not seem to be a three block solution. Cajoling, begging, threatening would get us 50 feet before he'd collapse on the ground again, protesting that he hated school. My face got redder, I broke into a full body sweat. Mostly, I was trying not to cry. He clung to my leg and I made it a few steps closer to the door. Finally, finally we were inside. He threw his arms around me and begged to come home. He told me he couldn't do it. My throat burned as I tried to keep it together for him. I hugged him and told him I knew it was hard, but I also knew he could do it. I reminded him if he had a good week he could have the Transformer we picked out over the weekend.

On the way out the door, his teacher told me he would be fine. "Yes. I know." She asked if I was fine. "No." I choked out. She offered to talk for a few minutes, but it was C's first day of preschool and we were already late. My voice was shaky and tears were threatening to spill over. I needed to get out of the building before I lost complete control.

For three years, T adored preschool. He was in an environment that fostered learning through play. It was a gentle, non-punitive approach with endless one-on-one attention. It was as far from the real world of public education as humanly possible.

I will always be grateful for the extraordinary experience he had in preschool. Just like I am grateful for the public school system. Does it feel right that the public school curriculum requires 5-year-olds to spend long periods sitting quietly? Not really. At the same time, no system is perfect, and public school is his life for the next 13 years. Listen, I do not want him to turn into a little robot. It isn't natural, what we are asking these kids to do.

But. But most of his peers can handle the long periods of sitting. The majority of the class is not struggling the way he is. I'm sure it is hard for those kids to sit still as well. Yet they are managing it.

I could go to the teacher and complain that kindergarten asks too much from my special snowflake. Or I could work with her to come up with strategies to help him adjust.

I do not want to turn him into a little robot. But doing things he doesn't want to do will be his reality for the rest of his life. I will explain to him that I don't want to do laundry, or make lunches, or clean up when his brother wets himself. But they are my responsibilities. And I get to do cool stuff as well. Spend time with my boys, go running, make fun desserts. Life is a trade off of good stuff and hard stuff. If we didn't do the hard stuff, we wouldn't understand how great the cool stuff actual is.

Kindergarten is going to be the hard stuff for a while. My job is to help guide him so it becomes the good stuff. We are only five days in. We have time.