By the time Herschel got home from his first day of Kindergarten, we only had one question:
How was Henry?
It all started about two weeks prior when I initiated my fatherly duty of getting my five year-old son (and me) ready for the big transition to a post-preschool life.
I was determined to do better this time. Back when The Hersch was starting preschool, it was all about brainwashing. He had to be ready. He couldn’t be scared. This is the era of gutter guards at bowling alleys. Any hint of discomfort or stress is off limits. So I went to work. We sat on his bed and read a series of books with big, friendly pictures of various kids, chimps and dinosaurs who all absolutely loved their first day of preschool: having snacktime with their new friends, putting their tiny toy-filled napsacks into cute cubbies, and coming home with a series of lessons learned about the joyful wonders of big kid school.
To this rather generic preschool prep curriculum, I added my own special brand of indoctrination. For a week straight, I told Herschel that he should see himself as the tear-drying superhero, Tissue Man. I figured that if he saw himself as a protector of the other crying kids, he wouldn’t even think to cry himself (which would make it less likely that I’d cry before getting back to my car). So I explained that if he saw any of the other mere mortal kids crying when their Mommy or Daddy dropped them off in the morning, he should walk over to them, smile, give them a big hug and say, “It’s gonna be Okay. Preschool is fun!”
It turnes out that kids crying for their mommies don’t respond all that well to a hug from a stranger wearing a cape with a Sharpie drawing of a giant box of Kleenex.
For this new transition to Kindergarten, I decided to skip the books, the costumes, the superpowers, and the false doctrines and just be more straightforward. Enough with the overprotection and candy-coated tear avoidance. It’s time to face the real world. It’s time to roll some gutter-balls. So one night at bedtime, I gave The Hersch the cold, hard truth.
“Hersch, I’ve got to tell you something about school. In the next few years, it will be totally different for you. You know how in preschool you just sort of rolled in to class and the teacher asked you which toy you felt like playing with? Well, real school is different. You have to sit still. The teacher really tries to teach you things like reading and numbers and science. There’s something called homework. You get these jobs that you have to bring home and finish by the time you get to school the next day. Then, every week or so, the teacher will give you a test to make sure you’ve been doing all your work and if you don’t do well on that test, you sort of get in a little bit of trouble.”
Hersch sat up on his pillow and smiled knowingly: “Okay Dad, so which parts of what you just said are you joking about?”
“Sorry Dude,” I said. “I’m not joking. School really does get that terrible.”
Understandably, this exchange didn’t give Herschel much in the way of an enthusiasm boost. So I switched my focus to the social aspects of school by sharing the names of the other kids who would be in Herschel’s class. He listened quietly as I read off the alphabetized list of first names. Until I got to Henry.
“Did you say Henry?”
Herschel has a guitar-playing, drum-beating, rock star of an uncle named Henry. He loves his uncle. He loves the name Henry and all of its various invented rhymes: Uncle Henry. Uncle Benry. Uncle Lenry. Uncle Zenry.
Once he heard me read the name Henry, that was it. I never made it past the letter H. Herschel was locked in.
When can I play with Henry?
Henry is my best friend.
I don’t care what my teacher’s name is, I just want to see Henry.
Can we have Henry come for a sleepover?
How many more days until the first day of Henry?
At first I pushed back a little and suggested that maybe he should actually meet Henry before deciding that they were best friends. But Herschel would hear nothing of these details and besides, his excitement about seeing Henry was so extreme that it easily overwhelmed any of the expected anxieties associated with getting started at a new school.
During the last few days preceeding that first bus ride to Kindergarten, all we really talked about was Henry. Herschel’s enthusiasm grew to such an extreme that I looked up Henry’s dad’s email address in the school directory and sent him a note suggesting that he give Henry a heads-up about the best friend he’s never met.
And then came the first day of school. As we walked towards the bus stop, I looked at Herschel’s face for any sign of trepidation. There was none. He smiled as the bus pulled up and didn’t even look back as he climbed aboard for his first bus ride without me. Why would he be worried? He was on a bus ride to meet his new, best friend.
That day, the minutes passed like hours. I came home early to make sure I’d be there when Herschel returned from this monumental experience. We all surrounded him as he walked through the front door. No one cared about the bus ride, the teachers, the lunchroom, the playground, the cubbies, the songs, the art work, or any of the typical new school stuff. We only had one burning question:
So how was Henry?
The Hersch dropped his napsack by the door and answered.
“He was good. But I made another friend too.”
Really, who is your other friend?
“She’s a girl. Her name is Henrietta.”
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