By Bassey Ikpi
This afternoon, my father handed me a brochure for St. Mathias Catholic School. It's that time. Boogie will turn 5 next November and we've been contemplating whether or not he should start kindergarten at 4 so that he'll be 5 with everyone else by November rather than a year older than everyone else. I've discussed it with his teacher and she says that though he's incredibly smart and social, he's also very stubborn (no idea where he gets that from) and makes up his own rules (I blame The Backyardigans). Rather than following directions, Boogie will find another way to do things, which is great, but not when the lesson is How To Follow Directions. His teacher is a black woman who raised three black sons. She's concerned that what is really a sign of his intelligence would be misinterpreted as a behavior problem if he enters kindergarten before he's ready. I trust her judgment so I'm weighing her concerns carefully.
I hadn't really started thinking about what school Boogie would attend until about a month ago. There's a French immersion Montesorri school not far from his current school that holds an bi-annual lottery. I haven't really researched it, but French immersion” and “Montessori all sound very fancy, right? I honestly would rather he go to a Quaker school. I just want him to go some place that understands him. Boogie and I are a lot alike in many ways. I see how frustrated he gets when he's not immediately good at something. When we do flashcards, he puts so much pressure on himself that I can almost feel his little blood pressure going up. I don't want to encourage that, but I also don't want to give him an out every time something is difficult. I remember being younger and worrying myself into stress headaches over spelling bees and state math exams. I know now that those were early symptoms of bipolar II disease, but it was also because I felt an incredible amount of pressure from my parents to succeed. I was afraid to fail, particularly because it's okay to fail as long as you do your best and you try again wasn’t really an option.
The look of excitement on my parents face when they handed me the brochure was telling. First of all, my parents are Catholic. I mean super catholic. I mean my dad is a Knight of Columbus Catholic. So Catholic, I'm sure the priest goes to my father for confession. I, myself, am not Catholic.
As a matter of fact, I don't even identify as Christian and haven't since I was 12. I gave my life over to Christ under extreme pressure while visiting a Baptist church when I was eight, but I remember getting on my knees a few weeks later and giving Jesus the it's not you, it's me I'm just not into you speech. I wasn't sure I was ready to be all serious with Jesus yet. My fear of commitment began early. I have nothing against religion. I'm just not sure I like what religion does to people. And I'm afraid of what it's going to do to Boogie. The uniforms, the strict emphasis on discipline and following the rules.
Where is my boy going to find his artist self or his biomedical engineer self or his guy-who-tears-the-ticket-in-half-at-the-movies self? I want him to be able to have the choices I didn't have growing up. If I had known that I could have been a writer or a TV show host or an actress, my life would have been much different. Instead, I had to suppress my artist because I needed to focus on law school, once it was established that med school was not for me.
Boogie loves his grandparents. He knows that I love him unconditionally and I prove it every day. But I'm scared of him trying to win the approval of my parents. He wants to go to church with grandpa and that's fine, but I'm scared. My father is a very progressive Catholic Christian. He believes in equal rights for women and homosexuals. He's pro choice and pro-”let the gays live,” as he's said. My father is extremely liberal and that makes him atypical of most catholics or those who identify as Christian. I don't want my son to even be faced with any anti-gay or anti-choice propoganda. I wonder if I'm allowing my personal politics to get in the way of my son's education. Plus, my mother is a tough nut to crack. She expects high achievement and isn't shy about vocalizing her disapproval when you don't meet her standards. I remember what that felt like growing up. I know she loves and she loves hard, but sometimes, I'm afraid it's too hard.
I know the ultimate decision is mine because he's my child and plus, I have to be thoughtful about my decision because I plan on moving in about six months. I'm a city girl. The suburbs aren't for me. I decided to stay in the DC area, but I want to move into DC. Did I mention that St. Mathias is literally around the corner from my parents' house? I appreciate how much my parents support and love Boogie and I know that sometimes I hesitate to step in because I don't want to appear ungrateful. I know they want the best for him. I'm just not sure what's best for him is such a strict and structured learning environment. I want him to have all the opportunities in the world but I also want him to grow with the same fearlessness and color outside the lines strength that he has now.
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic. She's also the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is working on a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Get more Bassey on her site, Bassey’s World.
Flickr credit: Dominique Godbout