Bye-bye, little one: An argument in favor of the kindergartener

It’s official. Last Tuesday—after I helped thread her arms through the stiff straps of a backpack covered in more pink and white butterflies than were flitting around in my stomach—I walked my daughter one block down the street for her first day of kindergarten and, in doing so, became a cog in the busted-up, broke-down, rusted-out, caving-in jalopy known as the San Diego Unified School District. But this column isn’t about SDUSD, a bottomless well of editorial fodder; there will be plenty of time for my commentary on that hot mess over the next 13 years.

No, this is about Holy shit! I’m not the parent of a toddler anymore!

You know the first thing I did after leaving La Princesse at class that morning was to b-line for a cocktail. I wanted to bring a flask in my purse and take a nice, big draw from it just as I stepped off school property, but I really have made an effort to leave high school behind me. It would be a bummer to get blacklisted from my kid’s new school for drinking on campus. On Day One. I’d rather earn my banishment with some caustic columns.

Of course, I was a little misty as I watched my child’s giant backpack walk away from me toward her new classroom, the whole of her eclipsed except for two long, skinny legs in laceless, pink-sequined Chuck Taylors and a perfectly round Afro-puff topping it all off. It was downright cartoony, and I hummed “School House Rock” on my way to meet my Maker’s Mark, thinking of how far I’d come.

Oh, the memories: There was the time Ruby smeared poop on my face. And the incessant late-night wailing that forced Sam and me into garage exile for the better part of a year. Or the meltdown at the pumpkin patch— man, that was an illusion killer. In an act of self-preservation, I pretended I didn’t know her and just let her sob and leak snot on herself in the dirt amid hay bales and ponies, while all the other families sipped cider and took photos for their scrapbooks and happily picked out their gourds and corncobs and whatnot.

Those miserable days have receded sufficiently and are now humorous anecdotes I offer in conversations with new parents to explicitly convey that they are not alone, and to subliminally convey the fact that they are completely fucked. To this day, whenever I see disheveled parents maneuvering diaper bags and strollers and Snack Traps while hunched over trying to prevent their new crawler from tumbling head first into a menacing pile of fire ants, my first thought is always: Better them than me.

Babies might smell good, but let’s be honest: They mostly suck.

Having a 5-year-old is much more palatable. For one thing, they don’t pee and poop in their pants anymore. That’s a big bonus. Sure, there’s the occasional oops-I-waited-too-long leak that they neglect to mention and which you only find out about when you pick up their inside-out heap of clothes they left on the bathroom floor. FYI: Unexpectedly wet kiddie undies evoke the same kind of reaction as walking into an unseen spider web.

And as long as I’m talking bodily functions, being summoned to the bathroom to verify that, Yes, honey, you’re right. That is diarrhea, is only better than a diaper trauma by a number of degrees. But it is, unarguably, better.

Another plus is communication. When a baby doesn’t care for her food, she spits it out like an oscillating lawn sprinkler, and suddenly you’re washing walls while contemplating taking lovers, Seasonale and a secret apartment in Crown Point (a small dream, yes, but it makes visitation easier than an apartment in Positano). By contrast, a 5-year-old will keep the grilled onion on her protruding tongue, contort her face like Popeye and flail her hands in the air next to her head until you remove the offending bit with your napkin. After a long sip of water from her glass (no more sippie cups!), she’ll look directly at you and say, “What the hell, Mama? I said ‘No onions!’”

Getting dressed is so much more pleasant with a 5-year-old around: Not only can she dress herself, but she can also create ensembles. She has a will and is going to exert it. Giving in to her proclivity for pairing autumn-hued plaids with pastel stripes and primary polka dots, often layered and topped with a pink gingham belt and/or a tulle skirt, beats the hell out of onesies and baby-jeans with those maddeningly miniscule crotch snaps.

I stay out of the fashion choices in my home now and only venture into jacket-battle on truly cold days. And I do insist on underwear beneath skirts if we’re going to be leaving the house. I’m a stickler on that point. You never know when you might be exiting a limousine to the flashing bulbs of paparazzi. You never know when you might suffer that accidental leak.

The best thing, though, about a kindergartener, is that they can make you proud in deeply meaningful ways that can’t be dismissed as gas (a first smile is still charming) or natural progression (first words, first steps, first haircuts, first skull-shaped self-inking stamp pressed repeatedly along every wall in the house at a 36-inch height). A toddler is the drunken friend whom you must prevent from dying; a 5-year-old is the pragmatic one who hears “No” and offers 17 plausible ways the answer should be “Yes.”

“What do you call the person that’s in charge of the school?” Ruby asked her dad during curriculum night while she and three of her new friends were pretending to play classroom. The role of “teacher” had been delegated and Ruby was unsatisfied as “pupil.”

“You mean the principal?” Sam asked. “Yeah,” Ruby said. She skipped back to where her friends were playing. “OK,” she said to them, “I’m the principal.”

Au revoir to those bruising toddler years. And bottoms up to the brutality ahead.

(As published today in San Diego Citybeat.)

12 Responses to Bye-bye, little one: An argument in favor of the kindergartener

  • m says:

    Been thinking of you and that beautiful kindergarten fashionista, and checking back hoping for an update (hint, hint). Hope things are going well.

  • Paola says:

    Loved this post particularly. Especially the “Babies might smell good, but let’s be honest: They mostly suck.” line. Nailed it!
    Also I am following you from Positano, fyi. Can’t even remember how I found you while you were here and have been reading ever since. Yes I know, I’ve been lurking for a while …

  • Caroline says:

    Love this…brilliant!

  • diegonomics says:

    Yeah, Aaryn, your column is totally a delight.

    Woman, you are funny, trenchant and everything in between.

    As far as the huge backpack gos

    Ages 1 to 8 no significant weight should go in back pack.

    Ages 9 to 17, 15 to 20 percent of body weight, max.

    Its bad for Rubys back which is growing, to carry too much weight in your back pack. The above recommendations go against the 15% rule currently promulgated by the American medical establishment, so you know you can trust them.

    Southwestern College news. Not available.

    La Barbie extradition news. Not going to happen, regardless of how many self defeating, convoluted arguments appear in the op ed section of the UT. The mans got info, so dispense it. He committed his crimes in Mexico. Yes or no?

    Yes or no?

    Padres news. I dont care.

    Election Commentary

    Meg Whitman could never be bothered to vote, but now she asks for your vote. As a major CEO during the disastrous last decade, she sold out her nation. Now she asks for your vote.

    Edwin Decker comment

    You are so right. Regardless of how many accidents you had, you know enough to know that tail gating is one of the dumbest things you can do on the road. And if you survived that many accidents, obviously you must have something right going in your direction. BTW driver distraction is the number one cause of accidents.
    Lastly, your wifes argument that shes never been in an accident ignores a little thing called the odds. Check that woman, Ed.

    Sample some Santana

  • Edwin Decker says:

    For the life of me I don’t know where you got that “babies smell good” notion. Regardless, this column was hilarious, and, as an Uncle to about 15 million kids, I can totally relate. I like them sooo much better when they get to 5ish.

    Love you girl – great job as always.

  • Happy says:

    As someone who’s just waded into the trenches of the diaper war, I laughed and cried re-reading your columns. I can’t wait until Seba’s off to kindergarten, too. :)

  • gail says:

    At about age 13, you’ll consider sending her off to boarding school, to return when she is 21. OK.. maybe you won’t, but I certainly considered it. Now my children are older than you, and they are great!

  • Though there are some days I still wish for a girl of my own, I agree that I’d like one delivered at the age of three already potty trained.

  • You capture babyhood and toddlerdom brilliantly. I have a seven year old boy who I’ve fallen in love with in the last year. Prior to that, um, como se dice, how do you say, it was hell. He communicated by throwing tantrums or wooden blocks at people’s heads. Having said that I see the beginning of the end. I see how fast time will go now, and just for an instant (usually when I’ve had a few) I wish for his baby days again.

  • I loved my baby years–but I’ve also loved my toddler, preschool, grade school, tween, college and young adult years. And with a kid like Ruby, you will too.

  • Kitty says:

    I started laughing before I read that limousine line, I knew it was coming, I hoped it was, and it did.
    I love you.
    And God Bless the United States of Ruby.

  • bex says:

    “Babies might smell good, but let’s be honest: They mostly suck.”

    Best. Line. Ever.

    I love your take on motherhood…makes me think I might actually be able to tackle it someday.

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