Monday, September 10, 2012

Can't we home-school him for a while?

It’s very quiet here today. We’re trying not to be sad. You see, it’s Augie’s first day of kindergarten; his mom took the day off work to escort him. It’s full-day kindergarten, not half-days like when we were kids. And that's the rub.

age 9 months, reading Moo Baa La-La-La
As grandparents who’ve had this child and his sister in our home five days a week, we always saw our role not as babysitting but as helping prepare these two terrific little people for life, and of course for school. We always knew today was coming, and we're happy for him. But the transition feels abrupt. No wonder moms cry with their little ones start school!

It could be worse. Augie’s going to be here for a little over an hour each morning before Grandpa drives him to school, and we’re thankful for that. But we’ll miss spending long, unstructured days with him.

The transition will be especially challenging for ViMae, who has one more year with us before she, too, starts school. Augie has been the center of her universe. Much of the time, the thing she most wants to be doing is whatever Augie is doing. We are looking forward to helping her discover her own interests and passions while she has our undivided attention. But just for the moment, we’re looking back.

age 2, pretend-baking
Last evening (Grandparent's Day at that) we went out to dinner and talked about how we’ve contributed to Augie’s development as the amazing little person he is. He has great parents—both teachers—who give the kids all kinds of attention and experiences. But it’s satisfying to know we’ve added a lot to the mix.

Our first priority was always to be sure the kids know they are loved—by their parents, by us, by their other grandparents and family members. When Augie was two, we were singing “Old MacDonald.” Augie sang, “And on the farm he had a Grandma.” I held my breath. What would Grandma say? “With an ‘I love you’ here, an ‘I love you’ there….”. I posted on Facebook, “My life is complete.”

age 3, with official umpire's cap
Peter introduced Augie to the alphabet early; before the child could talk he could point to any letter you asked for. And Augie always loved to be read to; you’d finish a book and he’d say “Again!” until you couldn’t do that one any more and he’d crawl over to get another. Today this boy walked into his first day at school able to read at a third- or fourth-grade level, if not higher. On Friday he fluidly read me this flyer: “Shockingly fast Internet…Connect any device anywhere in your home with wireless home networking options.” We all contributed, but we think basically Augie taught himself, using tools we provided.

When he was eight months old I handed him a baseball; by the end of the day he could roll it straight to me, every time. At two he batted buckets of balls off a tee every day and hit live pitching besides. At three he sat in the stands and called balls and strikes—accurately. At four he tried to learn to keep a scorebook. Last week at five he turned his back to the game and read a Star Wars book! You can provide opportunities; they decide what to love and when.

age 4, at drum set
Over the years we helped foster his passion for varied music—Peter and the Wolf, the Nutcracker, old-school drumming by Gene Krupa, rock classics by the Who and the Stones. He loves the dancing of Fred Astaire but emulates the dancing of Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain. He makes his own music on guitar, piano, harmonica, violin, and most of all drums. We showed him that music can be read but never pushed him. Last week he studied some sheet music and said aloud to himself, “This is going to be hard.” Then he placed both hands on the piano keys and played a lovely, gentle piece very different in style from anything he has tried before. The music is in him, and as he gets older I know he’ll find new ways to express it.

age 4, making salad with ViMae
If you’re still with me, pardon me for bragging. But I am astonished by the way a child’s mind can absorb and keep information. He knows the world’s major wild animals and keeps the carnivores away from the herbivores when setting up his Lego zoo. He can identify dozens of Minnesota birds, and knows the details of all 70 dragons in our Dragonvale game. He sets up fire scenarios with his massive Lego fire department, and plays them out with great attention to details that he has pulled together from many sources. He knows every character, battle, weapon, vehicle, planet, droid, and episode title in Star Wars, and in which order the episodes were made. He keeps several other fictional worlds spinning in his mind as well, including the Hobbit and the Bone graphic novels. With Star Wars and those other worlds, Augie is the one who teaches us, and he does it patiently, repeating information that Pa and I just can’t quite keep straight.

He’s a planner. He has talked for a year or more about having a smoothie shop, so I decided to help him develop a business plan. I thought it would be a cute thing to pull out some day after he’s forgotten all about it. Well, this kid dictated a plan that includes the layout, location, staffing, menu, target audience, and even the tools he’ll need to build the place. Pa sketched elevations and floor plans to Augie’s specifications, and I’ve made menus, both hand-written and typed. He’s frustrated that he hasn’t been able to get a contractor working on it yet. When a teacher assigns him a project, he’s likely to carry it out pretty thoroughly.

age 5, with new Lego fire plane
Friday was Augie’s last regular day here for daycare, and we celebrated with a new Lego fire plane and his favorite Chinese food for lunch. As he happily skipped out the back door at the end of the day, Abby said, “And so it begins.” As a teacher, she can envision for better or worse the process on which he is embarking. I didn’t tell her that I was thinking, “And so it ends.”

But it doesn’t end. We’ll still see him every morning, and other times as well, most likely. And we still have unfinished business.

On Friday, he told Peter, “You need to teach me all your life lessons before you die, so I can teach them to my grandson.”


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