My son started nursery school earlier this month. Not that he needs it. He’s my first born and my scholarly pride. He could identify every letter of the alphabet at just 18 months old. Before his first day of school he learned to write his name and read full sentences. So when my husband informed me it was customary for 3-year-olds to start school in NYC, I was reluctant. Clearly I thought our son was getting all the information he needed at home. Turns out I was depriving him of some fascinating concepts: winning, penises and girlfriends.
Win. Penis. Girlfriend. We don’t use those words in my house. I would never call them “bad words” (or even insinuate the same), but perhaps they don’t belong in the vocabulary of a 3-year-old. Yet my son has quickly added all three to his repertoire since his first day at school.
Winning. It’s overrated in my book. In my house we focus on “trying” and shy away from result-oriented words like “winning” or “losing.” I’m not part of that “every child is a winner” camp and if it was my choice, he’d never lay his hands on a trophy for anything. I simply want to know he gave his best effort. Yet suddenly he enthusiastically recounts his daily victories: on the playground, lining up for dismissal, even in the bathroom. Someone taught him the value of the pole position and he is giving all his effort to get there. If his friends are the winners in this category, I am the loser.
Penis. Now I know this is harmless enough. Typical childish bathroom humor. I don’t understand why little kids find the word “penis” so funny, but it’s undisputed that they do. Which is one of the reasons we never introduced the word at home; it just becomes maddening ammunition to get a rise out of mommy and daddy. I also don’t understand why some moms are obsessed with teaching their potty-training children the “appropriate” term for their genitals. It’s the only word they insist must be called by its anatomically correct name. I’ve never heard a mom mention whether their child was cutting a bicuspid or canine. In fact, I usually hear them telling that same child stories of when they were “in mommy’s belly.” That’s confusing even for me, so in my house we stick to the preschool version of all body parts. I was hoping he would learn the appropriate words at appropriate times, but school got the best of that plan.
Girlfriend. Actually he hasn’t yet learned the specific word for the trauma he is suffering, but there is no mistaking the emotional rollercoaster of his first girlfriend. The first day at drop-off she said to me “I just want to make him laugh” as she danced around him and told silly jokes. The next day they held hands. The third day, apparently unhappy with the level of her love gone unrequited, she declared she never wanted to talk to him again. My son ended up in tears. She is a full 11 months older than my son and this cougar is dragging him through the wringer. I had expected to hold off these heartaches until middle school, but again I was foiled by his classroom experiences.
All of this is pretty funny and light fare, and I say it with a smile on my face. At this age, habits come and go with the days of the week. However, these current fascinations give me a taste of the yuckiest lesson a mom learns over the years: my son is no longer just mine; he belongs to others in the world. I can share my knowledge and values but he will also be influenced by teachers, coaches and peers. His own path will be an integration of the lessons he learns from each. That is, unless I can convince my husband to let me homeschool him until college.