Why (Our) “Redshirting” Is None of Your Beeswax

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.

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15 Responses to Why (Our) “Redshirting” Is None of Your Beeswax

  1. Nicole says:

    You’re so right. I’m sorry that it’s something you have to deal with.
    We have been accused of it, too, but for different reasons…. Our younger son is big. And physically, he’s advanced. None of this is my fault, or his fault. He’s in kindergarten this year, and he’s a December birthday. So he started school with kids who were already 6, yet he is significantly taller. How does this become my problem? I don’t get it.
    I’m sure you’re making the best choice and your child will thrive because of your conscious decisions.

    • Thanks, Nicole. It’s all sort of silly, isn’t it? That other people worry about it? My son also happens to be off the charts in size, so I guess I can look forward to that part, too. Ever since he was about two, strangers have been talking to him as though he were in kindergarten.

  2. Lynn says:

    I had no idea this was called redshirting or that it had anything to do with sports. I thought it was just called parenting. I’m baffled that anyone would question you about this decision, or make it their business in any way. Like you I know a lot of people who held their child back and were glad they did, and people who put their child in school before they were ready and wish they hadn’t. You need to do what is right for the individual child, period. How does your decision to do what is best for your child affect anyone else’s life so that they think they need to tell you what to do? So weird.

    • I guess to be fair, I should say that the nostril-flaring is usually done from afar and on a grand scale, like in magazine articles or on blogs like mine. 🙂 Nobody has ever flared their nostrils directly at me or said anything hostile directly to me about holding him back, so it’s mainly things I’m reading that aggravate me. The other part of the equation, though, the part about thinking all “redshirting” has to do with sports — now, THAT’S something that we do experience personally and on a fairly regular basis. People seem just so suspicious that the whole “might not be ready for kindergarten” thing is bullshit to cover up our true motivations of grooming our own little Heisman Trophy winner.

  3. MILF Runner says:

    You should move here and send him to my kids’ school. The cut-off date is the end of the year (as in December 31) and so some kids are super, duper young. Most parents ‘delay entry’ though. My son who has an early September birthday is the third youngest in his class. Some kids are more than a year older than he is. At his school, age and even being held back is such a non-issue.

    Do they have hot dish in Wisconsin? Or is that Minnesota thing?

    • When/where I was growing up, if you weren’t five by January 1, you didn’t start school that calendar year. I like that better. There are a lot of newly minted 5-year-olds that are basically 4-year-olds eating a few less boogers. Mine included. 🙂

      What is “hot dish”!? They might have it here, but I’m not a native Wisconsinite. Wisconsonian? Let’s go with Cheesehead.. Now I have to know what hot dish is. I also didn’t know what a “bubbler” was until I got here! Do they say that there?

      • MILF Runner says:

        My understanding of hot dish is a whole bunch of shit mixed up and baked in a casserole dish. Not REAL shit. But you know what I mean. There’s all kinds – hot dog hot dish, Dorito hot dish, meatloaf hot dish. Googlesearch it and make some and tell me how it is. It sounds pretty damn scary to me. Sort of like Spam.

  4. alynedarra says:

    I didn’t know this was such an issue but my oldest is barely 2. What I deal with is people assuming in going to enroll her in preschool when I’m not sure yet. That’s apparently a no-no as well.

  5. Redshirting. Ha. I think it’s stupid in college football, and foolish to apply to whether or not a child is enrolled in school at any given age. In the state of Massachusetts, Kindergarten is NOT mandatory (though it must be OFFERED) by every public school district – AND the school districts determine the age cut off date. So, in theory, a child having September 30 as their birthday could be eligible for Kindergarten in one town, but not another.

    I believe that every parent has the right to parent their children the best way they know how, and that if you have more than one child- you might have to adjust your parenting style a bit to fit each kid. But who am I to judge you for the choices you make for your kids?

    Those who do that are insensitive, and are likely fearful that they’ve screwed up there own kids somehow along the way.

    • I don’t think kindergarten is required here in Wisconsin either. I bet if I didn’t put him in kindergarten at all, a flurry of judging would ensue! Also, I’d go crazy. Truth is, I would secretly really love to start him in kindergarten tommorrow. You know, for the me time. 🙂

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