published Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Kennedy: Cap and gown get me down

When I was a boy, we did not need pre-K because we did not have K.

Day One of first grade, not kindergarten, was my formal introduction to school.

Back then, 6-year-old first-graders were a sorry lot. I, for one, was a poorly socialized momma's boy.

I was in Miss Fowler's first-grade class at Riverside Elementary School in Columbia, Tenn., and I remember crying because, as a little lefty, I couldn't draw a straight line. Also, I regularly left a puddle of drool on my nap mat.

By comparison, today's preschool kids are Rhodes scholars.

My 5-year-old young son graduated from pre-K last week. There was a cap-and-gown ceremony. Later there was a celebratory cake, bags filled with plastic gifts and even a few cash endowments.

The little scholars marched to the stage one by one. In turn, each child took a seat at the front of the room. My son sat quietly, with folded hands in his lap: dutiful, obedient, smart.

I was watching him through the telephoto lens of a Sony HD camcorder, and he looked a little motion sick as he watched the tassel on his cap swing back and forth, back and forth. At one point he tried to stop it with his tongue.

Honestly, I felt a little unsettled, too. While this whole pre-K graduation thing seemed a little over-produced, it really did mark a turning point.

Almost every weekday morning for 10 years I have chauffeured a little boy to daycare or preschool. This ritual is about to come to an abrupt halt, as my two boys, ages 10 and 5, will ride with their mother to the same elementary school next fall.

For a decade, my mornings have been spent making toaster waffles, watching Caillou, threading little heads into T-shirts, and having deep discussions about future vocational options.

For example, my 5-year-old informed me the other day that he can't decide whether to become an architect or a trash man.

"Being a trash man is the only job I really know how to do," he lamented.

"You might wait until first grade before you set anything in stone," I told him.

This conversation was going through my head as the pre-K kids sang, "I had a little t-urtle. I named him Tiny Tim. I put him in the bathtub, to teach him how to swim. ..."

As part of the program the pre-K kids also solved math problems on demand, recited the pledge to the flag and demonstrated short and long-vowel sounds. All this was done with perfect composure and confidence.

Later, my son got his diploma and filed out of the room. He paused as he passed my chair and shot me a dimpled smile.

And then, in an instant, he was gone. My last morning buddy is all grown up and ready for kindergarten.

I reached up to wipe my eyes with my sleeve.


about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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