humor · kindergarten · preschoolers · schools · sons

Why (Our) “Redshirting” Is None of Your Beeswax (from the Momplex Blog archives)

My son, now four, was born a week before his due date and three weeks before the academic year starts. I don’t work in education and we don’t put our infants in school in Wisconsin, but trust me, there’s good reason why I took note of those three weeks. They quickly became the rest of the world’s license to have an opinion–sometimes a flared-nostril one–about our family’s personal beeswax.

Having begrudgingly “Ferberized” our colicky firstborn when she was nearly nine months of age as well as breastfed her for a year after that, you’d think we’d be used to opinionated nostril-flarers. At least in those cases, everyone was calling a spade a spade. Nobody was suggesting our sleep-training was a crazed effort to get her rested up for a career as a triathlete. Nobody accused us of making her “cry it out” so she’d have lungs strong enough to contend in the Tour de France.

I want to be clear that those three weeks aren’t the only judgment-magnet we’ve had with our second-born. After all, we didn’t circumcise the kid. In Wisconsin, that’s as suspect as not owning a Packers onesie or, worse, not teaching him to say Lambeau before he could say mama. Again, at least with this issue, we’ve all been talking about the same thing: foreskin cheese, disease-susceptibility, locker rooms, and whatnot. There was no indication from anyone that we might be leaving him uncut in a crazed effort to reduce water-drag for a future in professional swimming.

But those three weeks? That little period of time that makes him eligible for kindergarten even if he’s not ready for it? Those make people delirious. My best guess is it’s partly because the stupid term for it, redshirting, which derives from the sports world. In sports terms, these days, it’s basically about holding a kid back so that he’ll be bigger and stronger than his classmates on the field, court, or diamond. A lot of people still think that’s all it can be about. “So, is your family, like, really big into sports?” people have asked us when they get wind that we might hold our kiddo back. Really? WE are those idiots you see walking around in the opposing team’s colors, unwittingly, at the supermarket while mobs of Packers or Brewers fans stock up on jarred cheese and beer.

Does this shirt belong to you?
Does this shirt belong to you?

Every time I read an article about redshirting, the sports thing comes up. And I am so flippin’ tarrrrrred of it. Redshirting–even the word makes me cringe–isn’t always about sports. In our family, and I would venture to say in many families, it’s very simply about not sending a kid to school before he’s ready. It’s about being told by all of the education professionals we’ve asked that, if there’s any question at all, we should err on the side of holding him back. It’s about being told by all of the parents we know who’ve made the same decision that, yes, they’re so happy they held off. It’s about knowing just two families who went the other direction and are glad they did–but who also felt in their hearts that their kiddos were ready. And it’s about knowing many more who didn’t hold off but wished they had. What would you do? Actually, don’t answer me that. Because I don’t care what you would do unless you’ve been there yourself. You hear me, nostril-flarers?

Our son was diagnosed when he was two and a half with a “significant developmental delay.” Which sounds very dramatic but is basically an exacting label needed in order to qualify for certain early childhood services. Actually, because he confused the speech-language pathologist and early childhood educator who came to assess him, he was referred to a neuropsychologist. The diagnosis, if you can call it that, was “quirky” and then “significant developmental delay” (by six or seven months, according to their best estimate).

Why is he delayed? Coulda been the chronic ear infections through his first year. Coulda been a processing disorder that will make itself known later. Maybe he just wasn’t digging the tester. Hell, we don’t know. Has he caught up? Not sure. What we do know is that we’re asking all the right people for their guidance–his preschool teachers, early childhood development specialists, and parents who’ve been there. Yet their advice comprises maybe half of why we’re probably redshirting.

The biggest reason is simply that we know him best. We are his parents. We care about him most. You have an opinion about our redshirting? Got flaring nostrils about it? That’s your problem. Those three weeks are ours to do with them what we see fit. Mind your own beeswax.