More than reading, writing and arithmetic.

I believe my daughter may have still been in the womb when I began participating in "school talk." It's the talk that us moms around the neighborhood have quite regularly. It's the "where do you think you're sending her" question lobbed at the playground, the grocery store, the potlucks and the playdates. It's launched quite casually, this question, a harmless balloon, but in actuality it carries the weight of a jetliner.

That's because no one wants to get this wrong. No one wants their kid to end up being the kid you knew in high school with the trench coat and the black Doc Martins who never talked to anybody and started smoking who knows what in second grade. Granted, when you were in high school, he might have seemed quite alluring, this bad boy, dangerous and sexy. Now, as a mom, he just scares the crap out of you. You certainly don't your sweet baby turning into him, or god forbid, dating him. So, as you push your infant on the swings and you spy a responsible-looking parent with their non-trench-coat-wearing-infant, you ask the question. You hunt and you gather information. You protect your young.

We hope that if we pick the "right" school, the one with the "good" kindergarten teacher and the extra art classes and the "involved" principal, then maybe our child will be spared the pain that childhood brings. The pain that deep down we know is inescapable, no matter the school, the neighborhood, the decade. Being the last to be picked on the team, being the first to grow two inches, the first to grow breasts, the last to grow breasts, having the weird little brother, having the perfect big brother, sucking at math, sucking at science, being really good at math, being really good at science, having no style, having style no one thinks is the right style, being the teacher's pet, being the teacher's nemesis, being terrible at sports, being good enough at sports to get noticed, making your first best friend, losing your first best friend.

It's the growing and hurting and winning and losing and loving and hating that happens outside your four baby-proofed walls, out in the big wide world, the world that for this moment is elementary school, that is so terrifying. It's the sure knowledge that after spending the first five years of your tender baby's life keeping her away from chokable objects and sharp corners, you're sending her out to the wolves.

So we ask. We come together as mothers to say: help me keep her safe. Help me, help her to become everything wonderful I know she can be. We ask about school as we ask about diapers and potty training and sitters and strollers. What we're saying, I think, is: help me do this right. Help me get this child, this little innocent, grown and off into the world with a minimum of pain and a maximum of empathy and kindness and wonder and love. This, I think, is what we ask of each other. And of ourselves.


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