dark sarcasm


This has become “The Crazy Shit Parents Do” week on the blog, so I should probably chime in on the when-to-start-kindergarten issue, speaking as someone who could not have done it more devastatingly wrong. I was one of those ├╝ber-zorks who actually skipped kindergarten – and having a late spring birthday, that meant being ushered into 1st grade having barely turned five.


I’m easy to spot – they didn’t even bother aiming the camera down to my height (click for bigger)

Notice, also, the woeful spelling above: the 15th President of the United States is spelled “Buchanan”, but that’s the sort of thing you’d get your ass kicked for saying. It’d be easy to blame my mom and dad for putting me on the fast track to shitsville, but you have to look at it like leeches, bloodletting, thalidomide and the Whig Party: it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Apparently I was already reading my own books at three, so the educational professionals of the day concluded I’d be “bored”. I actually remember going to kindergarten for about a week – I found naptime on the cold floor to be completely insane, but the toys were top-notch. I also remember my first day in 1st grade a few days later; we were all given a quiz where we had to color in the sails on some ships according to a formula. When they graded them, I’d gotten every one wrong, and my school experience went from there.

I cannot begin to tell you how bad skipping kindergarten was for me, mostly because I’ve spent seven years here (as of last week, hurray blogiversary!) doing just that. It certainly didn’t help that I had two social settings: painful shyness and unfettered rage. I had no idea how to interact with human beings my age, and thus wound up being bludgeoned by them, until finally, FINALLY I went to a private school that had no tolerance for that shit. I actually repeated ninth grade at Norfolk Academy, although it didn’t matter, since my “first” ninth grade had been a thousand miles away.

Even though I was able to make many like-minded, intellectual friends, I was still a twit, and continued to be a twit clear into Carolina, not kissing a girl until my freshman year at Hinton James, and not losing my virginity until my senior year at the Lodge. After that, I became a full-blown cad determined to make up for years missed, and once I settled down years later, had a nervous breakdown. I now take Celexa for the depression that started when I was five, and Dexedrine for the ADD that made my education scattered, smothered and covered.

Do I blame skipping kindergarten for all of this? No, only about 87% of it. But if there’s a lesson here, I’d say this: the only thing you really learn from school is how to function with your peer group. Vocab, cursive, long division, sure, sure, but that’s just a distraction from your real education. I’d make sure your child studies Other People long and hard, because they’re everywhere, and they don’t grade on a curve.


0 thoughts on “dark sarcasm

  1. Anne

    Gorgeous photo of you guys and mom. What a beauty she is/was!
    Today I see many parents erring in the other direction. “Holding back” your kid and having them start kindergarten at 6 has become commonplace. When our youngest son Kevin went to kindergarten, having just turned 5 in August, I was startled to see all the preternaturally TALL girls in particular. At least half the class was “over-aged” because their parents held them back in nursery school, hoping for that competitive advantage in their intellectual development.
    I was a November baby and thus always one of the younger ones in my classes. I had friends who were even younger, and our own daughter is a December girl who is almost always the youngest in her class. We’ve done fine, apparently.
    But I’m sorry you were thrown into the deep end, Ian. My dad skipped TWO grades and was a high-voiced dweeb in high school. He ended up working in a factory for two years to pay for college, so it evened out. I’m glad most schools don’t endorse the skipping thing anymore except in the case of seriously high IQs.

  2. LFMD

    Just offering my observation from my daughter’s 4th grade class. . . a handful of the boys were held back. While it may have made sense in kindergarten for emotional and readiness development, these same boys are now the bullies of the class. They are bigger and older than their classmates, and they take full advantage of this edge. I don’t know what the solution is, but I notice that the kids who are trouble are usually the older boys in the class.

  3. josie

    I read the NYT article several months ago about holding back kids with summer bdays, and was saddened that they chose to make it sound like overzealous parents trying to get a competitive leg up by making sure their kids had extra skills going into school.
    Seriously, it’s exactly the opposite. The kids are held back so that they have a better chance of NOT failing or flailing at later grades. The teachers, aides, principals, headmasters, etc, all get in on the decision. It’s not arbitrary. They call it “the gift of time” in these parts.
    Also, as someone who regularly volunteers to help in her daughter’s kindergarten workshops, I can see EXACTLY why the boys are the ones who get held back the most. It’s clear as day. Half of Mia’s boy classmates were held back at PK4 and they still have a few issues in keeping up with the girls. Better to hold them back now than to dive-bomb their self-esteem later.
    The eat-your-young ethos is clearly eschewed in these cases. There is plenty of time for learning, and it’s best done at a time when it’s developmentally appropriate.

  4. CM

    “Do I blame skipping kindergarten for all of this? No, only about 87% of it. But if there’s a lesson here, I’d say this: the only thing you really learn from school is how to function with your peer group…I’d make sure your child studies Other People long and hard, because they’re everywhere, and they don’t grade on a curve.”
    So true, and so well said. It took me until I graduated from college to figure that all out.

  5. Mike V.

    Man, you can’t beat a nice Waffle House reference folded neatly into a blog entry :) Glad you weren’t also topped and chunked.
    Our girls are 7 and 4 and my wife was a kindergarten teacher for 9 years or so before being asked to move up to (teach) first grade. During her time teaching K, the stated objective of kindergarten changed substantially from being socialization and teaching routine, to where kids are actually taking homework home and getting early prep for the bastardized/standardized tests that are prominent in Maryland’s 3rd and 5th grades.
    It’s a disturbing trend. In my mind there is a reason that it’s the only “grade” not assigned a number–it has a different purpose. Especially if you’ve got kids coming out of home-based daycare or just home in general, I think your assessment of what you need to take home from kindergarten and school is spot on. Except for maybe getting hooked on phonics…

  6. julie

    Both my boys have late summer/early fall birthdays. In fact, my oldest’s b-day is 11 days before the cut-off. In any case, we went ahead with all the testing, analysis, and whatever you want to call it to see if he was “ready” to go to kindergarten in his normal year. My husband and I were divided–I thought he should be held back; he wanted him to go on ahead. The reality was that, even though Alex was competent and had every ability to do the work, his social skills were far behind. I realized this and I think that my husband did too, but just didn’t want to admit it. The “professionals” told us it would be best to hold him back, so we did, but not just b/c they said to. They ask so much more of the kids these days in the first years of school and more often than not, I feel that are kids have less opportunities to just be kids–that they have to be mini-adults. I think you can delay the curriculum a year, but the social skills are another story. Once you fall behind, I feel like you often stay behind. For us, and I know that every child is different and every family has a different situation, the maturation of Alex during his “repeat” kindergarten year has been short of awesome. He has the confidence level now that I think he should have and a sense of independence (versus clinginess) that I think he will need going forward that I don’t think he would have had had he started a year ago.
    So, then what do you do with the second? Well, for us, since the boys are 23 months apart, we decided to do the same for Jake–it will be easier this way too. 2 years apart in age and 2 years apart in school. However, he is the complete opposite of Alex and that would have led us to hold him back anyway. He has more confidence, social skills, and independence than Alex did at the same age, but his fine motor skills and aptitude are just not at the same level. He was a late talker (he’s 4 1/2 now, but he really didn’t start talking–sentences not just a few words here and there–until he was 3 and change). So, he will follow in the same path as his older brother and do the kindergarten class at the daycare and then do kindergarten 2 at elementary school (keeps with the theme in the daycare…toddler 1, toddler 2; preschool 1, preschool 2; kindergarten 1, kindergarten 2).

  7. Killian

    Am sending out that fabulous last sentence on Blackboard to every ONE of my UNC-G students RIGHT NOW. Before it is too late.
    Everyone: thanks for the recent entries. As one who TEACHES the products of helicopter vs. laissez-faire parents, it has been very enlightening. It explains why some of them flock to me as if I were the mother (they never had), or fly into a rage when I haven’t done their assignments for them. . . and everything in between.

  8. Joanna

    Delaying kindergarten has also become more common now that, many places, kindergarten is a full day, the new first grade. In Chapel Hill, my son attended a “transitional 5s” class for kids who turned 5 either late summer or early fall. We felt lucky to have that option.
    In deciding to delay, we factored in my sweet son’s shy, sensitive personality and interest in nerdy things like entomology and counting by 9s backwards. We also considered his small stature and that, if he was anything like my husband and I, he would be a late bloomer in teen years. He seemed like the perfect candidate to get his ass kicked and had already been pushed around by bigger, tougher boys in preschool.
    Once kindergarten approached, I toured the elementary school in our district and was told casually by my guide that it was “the time of year when the bullying starts.” I made a bee line for the local charter school, with small classes and a mission for teachers and peers to know each child and value his/her individuality. I actually considered Ian’s horror stories in making that decision.
    And now I have an strangely athletic, outgoing, confident 3 year old daughter who, I can already tell, will present new issues for me to consider when contemplating her education.
    Don’t you all want to hug little 4 year old Ian?

  9. xuxE

    my solution was a really solid private preschool age 2-whenever. that’s how you gauge the right time to advance to the next level. i picked bilingual montessori, but there are lots of good choices for kids at that age. if your kid is reading, cleaning up materials and happily engaged in group activities in preschool then you are all set for kindegarten at whatever age. if not, this is the place you work on those skills to get there.
    i mean, even if it’s hella expensive, i think it’s actualyl more important than college. i think people should spend the college fund on preschool and let the chips fall where they may later on in terms of getting scholarships, loans, work during college, saving up, whatever. and if you can’t afford the private preschool, then you find a head start program.
    i mean, who knows if your kid will even want to go to a traditional college. who cares? but at least if they do, better to have built the social skills and confidence with their own independent work to actually get through and achieve whatever they choose in life.

  10. Susan

    The cut off here is Sept. 30. My son’s birthday is Sept 8 so yes he is being held back. Not just for age. He has ADHD and has serious problems in a group setting,,,very impulsive, etc…. This year we have him in a half-day accrdited Kindergarten at a local church. he goes from 8-12 as opposed to 8-3 like full day. This year has been SO important for him in too many ways to describe here. He has had the benefit of a more play-based kindergarten class that focuses on social skills (all boys and one lone girl…no irony there). Next year he will go to Catholic school and do Kindergarten again…school starts in August and he turns 6 in Sept. That K is more academic stressing the reading, writing, etc… The only worry I have is that he is super smart and he might be bored later but time will tell. It is so individual this kind of decision…you really have to know your kid and his or her ability to function on many levels in a school setting. For us it was a no-brainer…

  11. FreshPaul

    Just read to your kids, let them see that you love your spouse (if you are married), play them music, help them understand that they aren’t the centre of the universe, and be sure they interact with people different from them.
    Do that, and they’ll be ready for school when they’re of age. Beyond that, you’re overstressing a la Dr Spock and putting yourself in danger of becoming like Airwolf when they get older.
    Curriculum and pegagody for people under age 4 are bullshit products sold to hyperactive yuppies. Their cognitive development ain’t there yet, not to get all Piaget up in here.
    Then again, I’m fully aware that there hasn’t been an “average” white child born in the US since about 1962.

  12. FreshPaul

    ^”He has ADHD and has serious problems in a group setting,,,very impulsive, etc….”
    so…you’re saying that he acts like a little boy?
    Imagine that.
    “ADD” : drug companies :: the NRA : gun manufacturers.

  13. julie

    Susan – to address your concern about the boredom later on. With the Sept. b-day, Alex was the second oldest in his class and a good portion of the kids are just now turning 6. We’ve got 5 weeks left in the school year, and he is just now hitting what I would consider extreme boredom (maybe started around the beginning of April). I can tell b/c he’s starting to act up in class (really just talking, nothing serious), complaining about being a “kindie,” and saying that he is actually looking forward to homework (that sounds crazy to me, but he attends an after-school program downstairs from his class and sees all the first and second graders doing their homework in “study hall”).
    I was definitely concerned about the boredom and knew it would happen. Both my husband and I expressed these concerns to the teachers straight up at parent’s night and they assured us that of course we weren’t the first with the concern but also they would work hard on a one-on-one basis if need be. I’m extremely happy to say that they followed through on this promise and did read with him one-on-one as he was ahead of some of his class in that area. I praise them for making it this far before spring fever/boredom has set in. Once first grade starts, everyone will be on the same playing field.
    Again, like you said, every child is different, but I hope this allays your concerns somewhat.

  14. Kjf

    Here’s another plug for Montessori. The socialization skills that are “taught” while the child is working/playing are really an amazing plus. My kids were even lucky enough to attend a public montessori school (in Nebraska of all places!) until 7th grade. If you live somewhere that Montessori is available (and affordable) I would look at it.

  15. Susan

    Thanks Julie for the SUPPORT. Fresh Paul you don’t know shit about an ADHD oppostional kid or how unbelievably hard we have tried to help him. Your comment isn’t worth any more ezplanation than that.

  16. Rebecca

    Ian, thank you for this entry. I have to say that some of your comments about your childhood over the past few years have been especially frightening to me because of Henry. He looks just like you as a 4 year old, and I’ve worried about him getting his ass kicked for being the uncoordinated little red-head in school. Having him wait another year will at least help me to feel he’s more socially and emotionally prepared to defend himself. Times have changed significantly and bullying is less tolerated, but it still happens.

  17. FreshPaul

    I don’t know shit about “ADHD”?
    Believe what you want…and I don’t know which of my comments you’re referring to–the analogy above or the inference I made regarding that most of what is diagnosed as “AD(H)D” is children (gasp!) acting exactly like children. Medicating them into oblivion so that they act like little adults seems to be as successful making money for drug companies as duping gun nuts via the NRA has made money for Smith and Wesson.
    How many of our artistic and creative geniuses of the past would have been anything of note had they been doped up since childhood?
    Trust me that I’m in contact with plenty of such medicated individuals on a daily basis and for 95% of them, it’s sad that they’ve decided to pop a pill (or their parents have decided it for them for the SOLE PURPOSE of getting more time to complete the fucking SAT) rather than discipline their cognitive lives.
    That being said, there are those out there who truly have cognitive disorders that need medication, but they are far, far fewer than those taking prescription stimulants to skirt the issue. Sadly, those cases sometimes get lost among the flood of those with no real problem at all.
    It’s kinda like Bigfoot–there may be some of his kind out there, but far fewer than reported incidents would suggest.

  18. janet

    school taught me that there has to be more to life than this ……………….I know that was a good lesson…tell you something I did tonight before I went to bed………..I put the kettle on for my final hot sip ….and would you believe it……………….all the answers are there……………..just put on your kettle and listen to the story .

  19. janet

    “school taught me that there has to be more to life”…………full stop.The “than this”……… was not directed at the blog …….the “than this ” bit was about me……….just re-read what i wrote and wanted to explain thatxxxxxxx

  20. xuxE

    well diagnosing any kind of mind disease or mental condition in a kid has got to have a lot of gray areas, not to mention the whole nurture vs. nature thing and what kinds of behavior have environmental triggers vs. internal triggers.
    who the hell knows?
    science is progressing and spreading so the number of diagnoses increases. big pharma advertises during prime time so more *solutions* seem at hand. yuppies want to live for themselves and drug their children into submission which supports the drug demand $. but at the same time, the level of pollutants in today’s environment must be ridiculously high. and humans change and mutate, just look at the clothes sizes in a vintage clothing store where it seems like everyone at the turn of the century was about 5ft tall.
    it’ll take us a hundred years to be able to figure out what is actually going on with us and our health today.
    right now, health care is so politicized that the scientific studies are either tainted by left wing agenda propaganda or right wing corporate funding bias. you can find a study to support any conclusion these days.
    and it’s ridiculous to try to sum these issues up with soundbytes or blog quips.
    all i know is this. a member of my family got diagnosed with adhd as a kid. really super smart kid. and if you had any doubt about whether or not he had it and whether the meds did more harm than good all you had to do is look at a piece of homework in like, 3rd grade, and compare the completely illegible scratches on a piece of paper vs. his miraculously legible penmanship when on the meds. before – huge frustration over no motor skill control and feeling like an idiot freak. after – relief, ability to communicate on paper, feeling of being in control for a change. that did it for me, totally convinced.
    in my opinion, the adhd shit exists, i’ve seen it with my own eyes, and i still remain as skeptical as anyone else about the widespread diagnoses.
    but on a kid-by-kid basis, as you watch a child suffer through stomach aches, dry mouth, headaches, anxiety, or any number of heartbreaking side effects of the meds, you can always let them have the choice to be out of control and off the meds or to suffer through the side effects to get the control they themselves want. you can always leave it up to them to decide how they want to live, as children and as adults.
    i think the hardest thing is simply not stepping in and judging based on your own opinions of how things should be. you just have to remember that people with all kinds of disabilities or challenges can live outrageously awesome lives, and if the rest of society without those challenges never really quite “get it”, then so what.

  21. Sean

    When you tell me that I’m just weak, or that these meds don’t help anyone, or that ADHD is invented, I guess I have to ask… Who are you helping? What are you trying to do? And how GOOD does it feel to mock a parent who cares deeply for their kid, enough to go through the pain and torment of doctors and tests and meds? What do you get out of trying to prove it’s wrong?

  22. Rebecca

    Amen Sean. Anyone who thinks it’s an easy decision whether or not to medicate their child for ADD has not been in that situation. It’s excruciating.