Welcome to the (kindergarten) machine

My daughter had her first day of kindergarten today.

In the way I’ll often tell her things that are both not funny and over her head, I quoted Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” as we walked through the doors. It seemed appropriate, this being her first few steps into the public school system and the infinite joys that lay ahead.

Given the emotional roller coaster this has been for me, it’s hard not to be grumpy with her inevitable and inescapable march into civilized life. Sure, there’s the thrill of seeing my kiddo leave the nest. But there’s also the proxy horror of knowing what she’ll likely endure, stuff like peer pressure, bullying, and just plain ol’ fitting in.

But, like all parents eventually do, I arrived at a state of equilibrium through the realization that a fully functioning adult needs the experience of school behind them in order to make their way through the dizzying onslaught a world of tough choices, angst, joy, and despair. It’s not so much that they need the schooling (and they do need it of course … they probably need more of it, and better), but they need the knowledge of figuring out systems, finding coping mechanisms, and discovering which levers they can pull in order to forge a productive life, or at least the life that they want. They have to know how to work with people. Through all of this, they discover independence. Before today, my daughter lived in a bubble of Nerf as she picked up gross motor skills, played with chalk on the sidewalk, and sang songs. That’s been fantastic. But at some point, she needs to start branching out, learning new skills, and taking part in society. Today, as I left her in the care of strangers amid a teeming mass of darling elementary school kids (with their Disney backpacks and light-up shoes), I sent her on those first steps. There will still be plenty of Nerf bumpers, but the game has definitely changed.

And I’m so glad. I’m glad that we, as parents, have raised her to this point, where we can be confident in her ability to fully participate in this fascinating and heartbreaking world of ours. We have a long way to go, but today was the first day that I could see the signs that we aren’t raising a daughter. We’re raising a person.

The final word here, though, needs to go to my daughter, for whom life is pure, simple adventure. After I made my “welcome to the machine” comment, her response was spot on.

“It’s not really a machine, Papa,” she said, matter-of-factly and with a hint of condescension.

You got me there, kid.

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