“A boy.” I smiled.
“What’s your due date?”
“August 10th,” I said.
“Oh no, an August boy,” she said, shaking her head.
That was eleven years ago. I was thirty years old, pregnant with my first child. What in the world, I wondered, did that evil woman mean?
“It’s a tough birthday,” she said when I frowned. Tough? I wondered, picturing celebrations at the beach. My baby wasn’t even born yet, how could his birthday be bad?
“You’ll have to hold him back,” she said.
But he looked so perfect in his sonograms.
“The cut off is September 1st at most schools,” another mom told me while we were pushing our babies in swings, “But for boys it’s more like June.”
Ronan’s first week of preschool, I asked what they thought.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the teacher said, he should go to kindergarten when he’s five.
Other parents didn’t feel the same way: “He won’t get any girls in high school.” “He’ll be the last to drive.” “He’ll never make the varsity team.”
I could barely get him to use the potty and they had me stressing about girls and cars. Unless there was a sandbox league, I wasn’t too worried about sports.
The cut off for public school is December 2nd in CA. They are going to change that soon, but have held on to the late date while most other states have switched, because pre-school isn’t free. Some families need to send their kids to school as soon as possible and the state thinks it’s better to have them there young, than not at all. Makes sense to me.
“All these parents red-shirting their kids are making school too intense and hard for everyone else,” the preschool teacher told me, and I agreed. I didn’t want to add to that cycle, didn’t want to break the rules so my kid could be on top. I figured someone has to be the youngest, right?
We applied to two private schools that had October 1st cut offs. One of them accepted our birthday-challenged boy.
“What about his birthday? Is he too young?” I asked the head master.
“He’ll be five,” she said with a thick New York accent. “What do five year-olds do? They go to kindergarten.” It was a progressive school whose 6th graders matriculate into the finest academic high schools. But it was 17 miles away, so we decided to send him to Larchmont Charter, where we were founding parents, even though, at that point, the school didn’t even have a site. There would be multiage classrooms, so he wouldn’t always be the youngest. Plus it was a public school with that December cut off. Bonus!
Truly, I have always envied my friends with late birthdays. Two of my best college friends were born in November and I always thought they had an edge. I grew up in NYC and studied ballet. Younger was always better, even when I was 13. When I was 30, my manager made me lie about my age at writer’s meetings, because 30 was so old.
I believe we are all born with specific traits, like a deck of cards: short, skinny, pretty, funny, rich, poor… Our birthdays are cards in the deck, too. In the game of life, you never know which one of those cards will be the one that helps you win. Napoleon was short; Oprah was poor and abused – you just can’t predict which circumstance will be the one that helps you succeed, or the one that makes you fail. We were given the option of holding Ronan back when he was 5, but I felt like that would be shuffling his deck and I didn’t want to ruin his hand.
Here’s the problem: what if the card he was born with, was being the oldest? Most private schools now have cut offs as early as June even for girls. College football players are as old as 25. What if being the oldest was his fate and I’d unwittingly taken it away?
I sought professional help — an education specialist. She did not meet Ronan.
“August 11th?” she said, “You don’t have a choice – you have to hold him. In high school he will be with boys — and girls! Who are more than a year older.”
“He scores well on those state tests. And his grades are pretty good. Well accept for handwriting and spelling, but that runs in the family. Really, he’s fine.”
“He’s fine, but he could be great.”
I look at Ronan and I see my baby and I worry that I made the wrong choice then and I worry that if I hold him now, I’ll just be making another bad decision on his behalf. He plays sports with the younger grade because the cut off is April; he’s friends with kids in both camps. So I asked him what he would like.
“I want to do really well in school,” he said. “I don’t want to always be the youngest. I would like to swim on a school team.”
Nothing is final yet, but the tide is turning. Because we’re sick of swimming against it. It’s exhausting. Some of you will read this and say, “I told you so.” Some will say, “Don’t do it, it’s always better to play up.”
The truth is, my boy still likes Lego and his mommy; boys only six months older, like girls. Based on my seven-year old daughter, I don’t even want to think about what eleven-year old girls like. One mother of three boys said to me the other day, that sending Ronan to high school as the youngest would be like “Throwing him to the wolves.”
If we do “adjust” his grade, the best thing about it is that that he’ll get to spend another year at home with me.