Tonawanda News

September 16, 2013

DOUBLE TROUBLE: The secret lives of kindergartners

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In my 16 years in journalism — more if you count college — many of them as a features or education reporter, I’ve interviewed hundreds of children. I’ve learned the tricks. I’ve learned what not to do. I’ve coaxed quotes from toddlers; I’ve sat down with teenagers. If I may brag just a little bit, I think I’m actually pretty good at it. 

But after that time, I may have finally met my match:

In my younger son.

As I write this, it’s the first day of kindergarten. Standing at his school, I was nearly tackled in a bear hug, then strolled with this beaming new kindergartner through the doors and headed for home. I looked down at my little boy, handsome in his new school clothes, backpack slung over his shoulders.

”So what did you do on your first day of school?”

He considered the matter. “I learned ... all sorts of stuff, really.” (He even sounds older, I thought.)

”What sorts of stuff?”

That earned me the barest eye roll. “I just told you. All sorts of stuff!”

Ah. I leaned on the lessons of 16 years. “What was your favorite part?”

”Mmm. All of it.”

”But what did you do?”

”All sorts of stuff!”

He was happy with his first day. I let it go, with a mental note to try later when the post-school bounciness wore off. It was hard to not to feel challenged, but treating your son like a hostile interview subject is probably not going to win you mother-of-the-year honors.

If I’m honest with myself, though, it’s not just about the professional challenge on a personal level. It’s the fact, hard to face, that my son — OK, my baby, my youngest — now has a huge part of his life that I just can’t see. Not unless he tells me about it. And that’s completely and totally up to him. 

Oh, I’ll faithfully read all the classroom correspondence. I’ll talk to his teacher at every opportunity. I’ll pay attention to homework and attend conferences and all those other parental duties. But part of it is his. And unless he tells me about it himself ... it remains his. 

I can’t follow.

It’s a start. I know that. His control over his day and his own learning and — his life, really — will only increase from here. It’s a little hard for a caring parent to take, and I couldn’t help but think of friends whose daughter just headed off to college. This is the start.

I don’t know, yet, what he thought of his first time in a school cafeteria. I don’t know what impressions he had of his classmates. I’m not sure what he liked best, what he isn’t sure about, what he didn’t particularly care for. 

I’m pretty sure he’ll tell me ... in his own time. And until then, I just have to wait. And listen. And, mostly, just accept that my baby’s growing up.

Apparently the kids aren’t the only ones who get lessons from kindergarten.

•••

From time to time, I’ve tried to mention children’s activities in the Western New York area in this space, especially those that can entertain a family and not break the bank. After years of following it, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the recent opening of the Kiddieland exhibit at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda. 

It’s an exhibit of the museum ... but it’s more. The museum’s side yard now features four working Herschell kiddie rides, all built in the building’s factory days: A car/fire truck ride and the helicopter, pony cart and boats rides that once ran at Page’s Whistle Pig in the Town of Niagara. Call it living history. They’ve all been beautifully refurbished and are ready for riders, although some height and weight requirements do apply.

We spent some time there last weekend, a fistful of tokens in hand, making the rounds of the rides. Sam rode the helicopters four times. Jim did a circuit before requesting a ride on his beloved carrousel inside. They both had a ball. 

As the area is part of the museum itself, museum admission (or membership) is required for entry. One ride is included with admission; further tokens are available for 50 cents each. The exhibit will be open noon to 4 p.m. weekends through mid-October, weather permitting. Visit carrouselmuseum.org for more information.

And have fun.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.