black alarm clock shadow

This has been a great school year for my older daughter, who turned five last summer and was super excited to start kindergarten at the magnet school where she has attended preschool for the past two years. She has made new friends, learned to read, and become more confident socially. She gets pulled out of class for a special reading group with first graders, because she’s somewhat ahead of her grade level in terms of her reading ability. She has her off moments, especially in the mornings when she would rather stay in her cozy bed than get up and get dressed for school. But my kid is basically rocking kindergarten.

I’m not writing all this to send my fellow moms into a sleep deprivation fueled rage. Notice the title to this post? The one who’s failing kindergarten this year is ME.

First, I apologize for that bit of clickbait if you sat down to read this because your child is not doing well in kindergarten and you need someone who can relate. Due to my work with parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, anxiety and other challenges that can make life difficult in kindergarten and beyond, I do happen to know of people and resources to help if this is your personal struggle. Please drop me a comment below if that’s the case, and I will surely try to connect you with those resources if you are looking for them. But this post is about something slightly different.

Don’t think for a minute that I take for granted my daughter’s successful elementary school career thus far. I am beyond GRATEFUL that I have a generally well-adjusted, intelligent and typically developing five-year-old. Thank whatever power or circumstance or celestial alignment may be responsible for that, truly! Because, if indeed her kindergarten experience had turned out to be a stressful and challenging time for her, it would have been made all the more worse by my own failings here.

Enough beating around the bush: this devastating failure of which I speak is not the fact that I don’t help my kid with homework (she gets that in an after-care program), or that I never pack a cold lunch for her (free hot lunch this year for every student due to a grant of some kind), or even that I don’t make her brush her teeth every morning when we’re rushing (ok, that’s pretty bad actually …).

That last one was a hint: we are late to school almost every morning. Not every single morning. But around 99% of the time, we are at least a few minutes late, if not several minutes late. And then, even when we’re technically on time, we are only just on time, so that my kindergartener misses the social interaction in the cafeteria while waiting to line up to go to her classroom. She misses the march upstairs with her friends to line up again in the gym (I have no idea why they do it this way), and then wait for the para’s cue to follow her to the classroom. She misses the experience of removing her backpack and coat, hanging them up, retrieving her homework folder and entering her classroom along with her peers.

And it brings me to tears when I realize that I am goddamned LUCKY she is a bright kid and a fast learner. The inconsistency in her morning routines, at home and at school, would surely break a less able child and make going to school a nightmare. Who knows how much better she would be doing if I had my shit together?

Here is why we are late every day: I have incredibly poor sleep habits that managed to follow me into adulthood. I know I should put my phone away and go to bed earlier, but I don’t. I know I need to drag myself out of bed in the morning even when I feel like crap, and I don’t. I know that a healthier diet and some regular exercise would likely help me with this falling asleep thing, but I neglect those things.

And then I question whether it’s not about the time I wake up in the morning, but more about our routine, or lack thereof, once I’m out of bed and getting the kids up. First of all, my husband leaves for work at 6:30 a.m., so he’s really not able to help out. That’s fine, but sometimes I don’t get up until 7:00, and then I know we’re doomed. But even when I am up at 6:00 (or sometimes earlier), I somehow tend to wander into a missing time experience.

Sometimes I see the minutes slipping away, like when I know my kindergartener and preschooler should be getting dressed, but they tell me they’re too tired and I feel bad for them so I leave them alone. Other times, I have no idea how it’s suddenly 7:45 when it was only 6:30, like, a minute ago. I have ADHD, but taking a pill to get me through the morning just seems to make me a bit more optimistic about my day. It doesn’t seem to kick in early enough to keep me focused. And I also like coffee, and I drink at least two cups of it before leaving the house every day. It’s generally not recommended that you mix caffeine and amphetamines, unless you want to give yourself a panic attack.

I drive the kids to school every morning. The kindergarteners, even those who live out of the district like we do, are provided with a bus. But my preschooler is not eligible for transportation, so I need to drive to school anyway. If I leave the house at about 7:40, we can usually get to school by 8:05, when the kindergarteners are lining up and the preschoolers are still having breakfast (yes, free breakfast too, this school is amazing). The school day officially starts at 8:15, and anyone entering after 8:20 is considered tardy. We usually don’t leave the house until 8:10 or later, sometimes as late as 8:30. Occasionally we leave as late as 8:45 or worse, when the morning has gotten off to a really bad start.

Here is where the guilt finally creeped in so bad that it stopped me dead in my tracks. My happy little kid mentioned the other day that she likes it when she gets to sit on the rug and talk about what they did at home that morning. This is the very first thing they do every single day in kindergarten. “Well, I don’t know if they still do that … we haven’t been there that early in a while.”

Was she upset? No, she was just pondering how things have been lately. Was I upset? Without a doubt. My child is missing out on a cardinal experience in her school day, of her entire school year and kindergarten experience. And you know what else? By my own acts and omissions, I am teaching her my own bad habits, however inadvertently. And if she ends up carrying those bad habits into adulthood, it’s going to be all my fault.

We talk a lot about guilt in this community, and those of you who read my stuff consistently know that I generally agree that most parenting-induced guilt is unproductive and does not serve us. But some guilt, the kind that creeps in and produces a moment of insight, is healthy and there for a reason. Opinions may differ on this, but right now I am feeling like my guilt over making my child late every day is a gentle reminder that these early years are crucial to her development. I wish I knew what to do about this dilemma, but honestly, I’ve got nothing. Well, the what is actually clear: fix my own bad habits and get my ass up out of bed so I can teach my kids to do the same. My struggle is more with the how.

I was bemoaning my plight to my husband the other night. His explanation for why I’m late every morning was simple: “You don’t have any real consequences for being late.” In other words, nothing bad enough is happening everyday to scare me out of the behavior. I mean, sure, my kids are late to school, and that should be bad enough. But there’s no immediate pain to show for it. We’re not being asked to leave the school or anything. It’s annoying for the paras and sometimes disruptive for the rest of the class, but beyond a few grumbles and unspoken thoughts, our days go on and everything is kind of fine on the surface level.

How do you create consequences in order to effect change in deeply ingrained bad habits? It’s the proverbial stick over the carrot. But the horse doesn’t know how to beat herself with the stick in order to get moving, any more than she knows how to reward herself with the carrot for a job well done. And as for asking for help … well, have you ever seen a horse approach her human rider to ask for a mechanism to help her learn productive habits? No, of course you haven’t. It’s clear that this is a struggle I am going to need to overcome on my own. I want to make it to the first grade next year.

Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)