Ella Goes to Kindergarten Camp, Dad Goes to Pieces…

Ella, the Kindergarten slayer.

My brain is normally a jumble of thoughts, some connected, others disjointed and meandering around like a bored relative at a party. But today is especially tough for me – while I’m working on my fall calendar, teaching plan for the year, and just in general trying to have a peaceful mental breakdown, I’m constantly distracted by one monstrous question that threatens to consume for the rest of my natural life:

How’s Ella doing?

This morning, Rachel and I (along with Jon) escorted Ella to her first day of Kindergarten Camp. That’s right – they now have practice runs for Kindergarteners. Brilliant move. I don’t remember if I had such a thing at my disposal when I was a kid; it’s certainly possible, but somehow I doubt it. I can only vaguely recall the emotional horror of being escorted to the bus stop by mom and placed inside the foul-smelling yellow beast’s belly. The feeling of insignificance as older, larger, aggressive kids swarmed in anarchy around me as I clung tightly to my lunchbox and stared at my brilliant white new sneakers. The sense of fear that enveloped me as I moved with the teeming masses into the cavernous opening of the school and navigated the absolute bedlam of the hallways. Thinking long and hard on this, my best impressions are fear, smallness, lostness, worry, anxiety.

It’s a very cinematic memory. I think it has a Michael Giacchino score.

In fact, the emotional core of the memory is so strong that even as I walked into Ella’s school today, I felt those same stirrings in me, only amplified because I was considering my child’s future. I looked at Ella’s thin little body, walking tip-toe across the great waxed floor, her tiny pink shorts and shirt shrinking against the massive white block walls, and all I could think about was: Heck no. She ain’t coming here.

The hallways were ridiculously long, the walls barren and bereft of color or style. The color scheme (mute whites and greys) combined with the fluorescent lighting made me feel as if I was dropping of my gifted and rare child at some secretive government lab where they specialize in stripping the unique and beautiful people of their souls (which, come to think of it, is the official mission and vision statement of Gwinnett County Public Schools…ba-dum-cha! Thank you, I’ll be here all week!). It felt wrong, taking my daughter into some weird amalgamation of an Aldous Huxley/George Orwell novel.

And public school architectural theory has changed quite a bit since I was in school. The colors used to be warmer and more inviting, for one thing, and the office, cafeteria and the library were all closer together. At Ella’s school the office is an intimidating bank of curtained windows to your far left once you walk through the front door, the kind of darkened, curtained windows you would imagine Drs. Mengele and Frankenstein collaborating behind. The entryway, instead of being small and cozy, is a massive swath of tile burnished to a high sheen (a sign of exceptional custodial work, may I say), the vast majority of which is white so as to give the entryway an even larger sense of space. And the library, despite its welcoming exterior and warm interior, seems to be only a mirage far across the expanse of whiteness.

It’s like Dr. Zhivago.

The rest of the school is laid out on a simple grid, like New York City or DC, though when you don’t know the grid it seems anything but simple. All in all, it’s a cold, empty tomb. And here I was, walking my daughter into the heart of it with only a Hello Kitty lunchbox at her side. I suddenly thought of Ella, suspended by her feet from a ceiling of ice, kind of like Luke Skywalker in the lair of the Wampa in The Empire Strikes Back. I was overwhelmed by the image; I mean the least I could’ve done was give Ella a good blaster. Or a lightsaber.

We got Ella to her class without me sharing any of my thoughts with her or Rachel, and once we got to the actual room, a magnificent burst of color and texture and shapes and warmth burst into sight. But despite the homeyness of the surroundings, there was still the second greatest fear of all school-aged kids: the teacher. She turned out to be the daughter-in-law of one of our neighbors, a young woman with a nice smile and gently burning auburn hair. She let Ella choose her own seat (at the green table) and offered her some paper to draw on. Ella sat down without hesitation and happily scribbled away, as if she had no fear. Me, I would have been terrified; if the teacher is the second greatest fear, then the first should be obvious – classmates. Those walking, talking abstractions we call fellow students, the ones you don’t know, aren’t sure how to get to know, and secretly worry will not like you in the slightest.

As a kid, I would have recurring nightmares in which I was the sole focus of my classmates’ collective rage and hatred, and I would be surrounded by them in their pitiless fury, their faces gone, replaced by smooth, featureless skin that made them all the more inhuman and unknown. I hated the first day of school, the great mystery of whether or not I would have an ally already in class, the torturous tension of having to learn an all-new set of people and their accompanying foibles. But my daughter, thank God, seems not to have inherited this part of my personality. In fact, she didn’t seem to care in the slightest about the horrible unanswered question before her: who’s in my class? She just colored. And sang.

I ended up having to take Jonathan out of the room because he was threatening to completely disassemble it, and so I didn’t see how Ella reacted when Rachel finally left her alone. I imagined her, so small and innocent, sitting at the slightly too-large table coloring in a daze and then suddenly snapping to and realizing: I’m alone. What would she do? Would she panic? Would she call out for me to come to her rescue and wonder why I didn’t respond? Would she suddenly come face-to-face with the greatest horror of human existence, that despite the presence of family and friends who love and guide us, in the end our lives come down to our ability to live them on our own?

I almost hyperventilated. Metaphysically speaking.

Rachel found Jonathan and I wandering the halls and we talked about the school, its size, the relative blandness of the color palette. Suddenly Rachel looked at me.

“I forgot to tell the teacher about Ella’s allergies and asthma!”

She darted down the hall, and Jon and I slowly followed after her. I wondered how Ella would respond to Rachel’s reappearance. Would she want to go home with her? Would she cry out for the comfort and safety of her mother’s embrace? The minute passed like decade. Finally Rachel came around the corner.

“I told the teacher about Ella. She’s thinks it’ll be okay.”

“How was Ella?” I asked.

Rachel smiled. “She looked at me, pointed to the door, and mouthed, ‘Go away, Mommy!’ Guess she won’t have any problem coming to school.”

For the first time that morning, I felt a natural smile break out. My daughter is not me, not full of my random worries and thoughts, not paralyzed by my innate shyness. She is her own brilliant little person, and I know – despite her innocence, despite her curiosity, despite all of my personal fears – that she will be just fine with school and beyond.

A father couldn’t ask for more.

This Is Only a Test…

Took a personality test or five yesterday, and got an interesting result. If you know me, read the result and let me know what you think: me or not?

The Idealist

As an INFP, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is external, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.

INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves

INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP’s value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life. The goal at the end of the path is always the same – the INFP is driven to help people and make the world a better place.

Generally thoughtful and considerate, INFPs are good listeners and put people at ease. Although they may be reserved in expressing emotion, they have a very deep well of caring and are genuinely interested in understanding people. This sincerity is sensed by others, making the INFP a valued friend and confidante. An INFP can be quite warm with people he or she knows well.

INFPs do not like conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. If they must face it, they will always approach it from the perspective of their feelings. In conflict situations, INFPs place little importance on who is right and who is wrong. They focus on the way that the conflict makes them feel, and indeed don’t really care whether or not they’re right. They don’t want to feel badly. This trait sometimes makes them appear irrational and illogical in conflict situations. On the other hand, INFPs make very good mediators, and are typically good at solving other people’s conflicts, because they intuitively understand people’s perspectives and feelings, and genuinely want to help them.

INFPs are flexible and laid-back, until one of their values is violated. In the face of their value system being threatened, INFPs can become aggressive defenders, fighting passionately for their cause. When an INFP has adopted a project or job which they’re interested in, it usually becomes a “cause” for them. Although they are not detail-oriented individuals, they will cover every possible detail with determination and vigor when working for their “cause”.

When it comes to the mundane details of life maintenance, INFPs are typically completely unaware of such things. They might go for long periods without noticing a stain on the carpet, but carefully and meticulously brush a speck of dust off of their project booklet.

INFPs do not like to deal with hard facts and logic. Their focus on their feelings and the Human Condition makes it difficult for them to deal with impersonal judgment. They don’t understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment, which makes them naturally rather ineffective at using it. Most INFPs will avoid impersonal analysis, although some have developed this ability and are able to be quite logical. Under stress, it’s not uncommon for INFPs to mis-use hard logic in the heat of anger, throwing out fact after (often inaccurate) fact in an emotional outburst.

INFPs have very high standards and are perfectionists. Consequently, they are usually hard on themselves, and don’t give themselves enough credit. INFPs may have problems working on a project in a group, because their standards are likely to be higher than other members’ of the group. In group situations, they may have a “control” problem. The INFP needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives.

INFPs are usually talented writers. They may be awkard and uncomfortable with expressing themselves verbally, but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they’re feeling on paper. INFPs also appear frequently in social service professions, such as counselling or teaching. They are at their best in situations where they’re working towards the public good, and in which they don’t need to use hard logic.

INFPs who function in their well-developed sides can accomplish great and wonderful things, which they will rarely give themselves credit for. Some of the great, humanistic catalysts in the world have been INFPs.