The instructions for my kindergartener’s 100 day of school project were simple: the child should create a picture with 100 of something. There were examples of drawings for inspiration: one hundred stickers on a page, one hundred leaves on a tree, one hundred circles in a gumball machine.The student should be able to count to 100 themselves, which my son often does. Like at bedtime, when he should be brushing his teeth. Or in the car, at full volume, when I’m trying to listen to the radio.

Somewhere in the last 10 years, the one hundredth day of school has become a rite of passage for parents (I understand some schools have the children make t-shirts, God help us). When my older two children were in grammar school, I don’t remember much fuss about the 100th day, except for an in-class celebration that probably involved counting. One hundred exes on a calendar, one hundred rings in a paper chain around the classroom, one hundred munchkins in a doughnut box.

But, like everything else, the 100th day of school project has been stretched, expanded and overblown (by competitive parenting? Pinterest, maybe?). For his project, my five year old chose to count mosaic sized pieces of construction paper that he intended to glue onto a dinosaur he drew himself. It wouldn’t have been my choice, but huffing about it sent shards of colored paper everywhere.

Besides, I didn’t have time to argue with him; my procrastinating tendencies meant we had one hour to get it done before I had to be at a high school parent meeting for my fourteen year old. After 55 minutes of cutting, drawing, losing count, recounting and gluing, we patched together a dinosaur with 100 scales made out of little squares of green, blue and yellow paper.

It was messy and quirky, and it looked kind of like my patience shredded into one hundred small pieces and glued onto a piece of oaktag.

I set the project on the dining room table to dry and ran out the door, feeling guilty I didn’t have more time. Between finding parking and always getting lost in the halls of the high school, I was going to be late.

The presentation had already started when I found the auditorium and grabbed a seat in the back. The guidance counselor, with his calm demeanor and reassuring tone, stood in front of a giant screen and was gently talking anxious parents through the transition from eighth grade to high school. It struck me how quickly 100 days of kindergarten turns into entire school years, and school years turn into eras of our children’s lives: grammar school, middle school and high school.

I sat in the dark theater, listening nervously as I peeled glue off my hands. I had been here before and tried to remind myself that fretting over this change in my son’s life is somewhat fruitless. Like his older sister, he will make the transition on his own. In some ways he’ll be prepared, in some ways he won’t. Ultimately, we’ll set him on his course and piece the rest together as it comes.

When it comes to marking the passage of school days, there are things I could count over and over (by 100s): forgotten lunches, flashcards, art projects, permission slips, how many times I ask “Did you finish your homework?” But then there are the transitions, the singular events that stop time, only for a moment, and make me wonder, “Well, how did we get here?”

If 100 days of kindergarten looks like a scrappy mosaic dinosaur, then this is what all of those days add up to: one week in mid-February (with Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, a school project, and a parent orientation for high school) that wasn’t really so different from any other week. In other words, a mishmash of love and guilt, unreasonable expectations, strong opinions, a little doubt, a lot of counting, some cutting and gluing. And it was bittersweet. All part of a larger, imperfect and quirky picture.

6 comments

  • Aunt c

    Wonderful essay.. loved it!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thank you!

      Reply
  • sheila

    Sitting in the dark in Boulder (come and visit, we have a guest house!) I am immediately re-attached by your essay to the kitchen in Kansas City, the one in Holmdel, and now the second one in Boulder…. all the projects needed, fussed with, pushed and pulled out into life. all the conversations and arguments and encouragements and silent steaming. And you know what, Everyone grew up! The two oldest who shall not be named ended up running a big BIG piece of Google in lower Manhattan. Exhausted me, the mom, knowing I was seeing our oldest son refusing to finish requirements because he thought they were dumb. The next one head of country in Bangladesh for Doctors Without Borders (he was really hard to get moving on projects, flunked out of college a couple of times before getting his REAL act together. ) I am exhausted even telling you the details…. But talk about unfinished projects!!! So my dear Jen, they are both well employed, amazing and relishing their lives… I am a limp over-used dish towel with stains all over it. And yet, lucky us, blessed us, the moms who struggled with projects. It all counted for something really good. I see my fingerprints on t heir lives, and hope you do too.
    really fondly, Sheila

    Reply
    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thank you, Sheila, for the encouraging words of experience!

      Reply
  • Sandy

    I loved reading this…Wonderful reflection!!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thank you, Sandy!

      Reply

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