THE LAST WORD
FIRST DAY of Kindergarten
1975: My first day of Kindergarten. My mother pried my sweaty fingers away from her own and pushed me toward the teacher. “Amaya, stop crying. I’ll be here watching you, understand? Time for school,” she assured me in Mandarin. “I DON’T WANT TO GO.” I replied in Mandarin. “I want to stay home with MAMA.” I checked every two minutes to see if my mother was there. She was. I caught my breath in between salty outbursts. Children were staring. I didn’t understand the English words the teacher used.
Like mother, like son By Mary Chang, BCTF staff and mother of a new student in a BC public school
A table was covered with flat, transparent plastic rectangles in primary colours. The teacher held a rectangle against her eyes. Her face turned blue and she smiled. I was fascinated, silenced by the discovery. I was curious to pick one up. I checked the doorway for Mama. She was gone. I burst into tears. 2015: My son’s first day of Kindergarten. We arrived thirty minutes before his scheduled gradual entry time. I took him to see the playground, his empty Kindergarten class, library, and the boys’ washroom. “Mama, are you going to stay?” Dylan asked. “I’ll stay for ten minutes. When it’s time, you’ll go into the Kindergarten class with the teacher. Mama will go, and then I’ll come back to pick you up.” “NO—I DON’T WANT MAMA TO GO. I want Mama to stay for ONE HUNDRED MINUTES.” We gathered in the courtyard facing the windows of the Kindergarten classroom. The teacher introduced herself. “I’m Mrs. B—the Kindergarten teacher for your class. Now, children please line up against this wall. Parents, see you at three o’clock for pick-up. Goodbye.” She led the children into the classroom. Within seconds, the parents rushed to the window, their noses nudging the “fishbowl tank” containing their fingerlings. I made eye contact with Dylan through the glass. He was sitting on the carpet with the other children. No smile, but no tears. I smiled and waved goodbye.
Inset: Mary and her mother, 1974 or 1975 Above: Mary and Dylan, August 2015
As a mother, I did all that I could to prepare Dylan for the big day. We attended Strong Start to introduce him to a child-centered multicultural environment and engage him in social play. I created friendships with mothers, set up play dates and exchanged free childcare. I enrolled him in gymnastics, music, and swim lessons, and he attended a quality preschool part-time. We read books about school and met other Kindergarten children at the elementary school for classroom tours and play dates during the summer. The preschool I attended in the 1970s didn’t involve a classroom. If there were any early learning programs, my mother was uninformed, nor would she have had the confidence or time to attend. She struggled with English, and worked hard to maintain our household of six, while Baba worked full-time. We were one of a handful of Chinese families in a predominantly white, middle-class neighbourhood. We couldn’t afford any lessons or childcare. Mama was busy filling rice bowls and ensuring there were meat scraps on the table.