Over the last decade, our country has started increasing its investment in early childhood education, and I can see how Preschool programs are benefitting. My children learned to socialize, cooperate, and cultivate their individual personalities in this cheerful group environment. What’s not to love? Still, there are things every mom thinks about preschool but doesn’t say out loud. It may be all sunshine and rainbows decorating the walls, but I’ve had some anxious thoughts at times when it came to this stage in my kids’ lives.
As a mom, I often second guess my decisions. I have never been a parent before, so I have to crowdsource to figure out what’s best for my kids. It has been easier with my second than with my first. There were no tears when I dropped my younger son off for preschool, but there were plenty — from both my daughter and me — when I would drop his older sister off. She must have sensed my fear. I’d question this decision about a full day of school at only three years old: was it necessary? Would it be a good fit? Will she keep crying even after I leave?
Preschool turned out to be wonderful experiences for both my kids, despite their different personalities. I made terrific friends with some parents of their friends from their group, and we continue to use the rules they learned there in our house (mostly the “keep your hands to yourself” law). Still, and despite the many positives, the experience came with trepidation. Here are some thoughts every mom has about preschool, but doesn’t say out loud, because it would feel too harsh to talk this way about a place that was my kids’ home away from home.
“Is That Safe?”
I was terrified that my son’s preschool would take them, holding onto loops on a long rope, outside for walks on days when it was too chilly to spend much time outside. I was convinced the kids, once "in the elements," would get a whiff of that sweet freedom and break into a run down our busy Queens streets.
Then I witnessed the children line up with their buddies, find their loops, and hold on, as if there was no question about letting go. My kids’ teachers taught me so much about trusting children to gain independence. If it had been up to me, I’d have kept my 3-year-olds strapped into strollers so I’d never have to worry about them falling or letting go of my hand. I might still be pushing them around now, if I had let my fear win.
“How Clean Are Those Stuffed Animals My Kid Is Burying Her Face In?”
As a rookie mom, I was rather overzealous about trying to banish germs from anything my daughter would come into contact with. So preschool was a wake-up call for me. As clean and orderly as the school was, a group of ten 3-year-olds can’t help but create a mosh pit of bacteria. The sneezing, the touching, the sharing(except for food, which I was thankful for, given my son’s peanut allergy) and, yes, that pile of plush dolls that looked like a flu outbreak waiting to happen. Thankfully, that flue outbreak didn’t happen. I mean, my kid got sick, and bugs did go around, but it's a small price to pay for my kid to spend happy days with a gang of pals she loved like family.
“That Kid’s A Genius And Mine Is Not”
I’m not proud of it, but I was crazy jealous of the mom whose kid could already write her name neatly, and on the line, by the end of preschool. True, that little girl had four letters in her name and mine had nine, but I remember silently pleading with my daughter to just get it together and write the letters, all facing in the same direction, across the page, instead of scattered like confetti. But that was my problem. I had always been competitive (Type A much?), and, unfortunately, I would mentally compare my kids to others. It took me until my second kid’s turn at preschool to realize that there is a huge range of ability at this age in our kids’ development, and I should just chill out about it.
Maybe handwriting girl was a genius, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. Preschool taught me, as a parent, that as long as my kid is being challenged without being discouraged, and is engaged without getting frustrated, I don’t need to get anxious. Parenting is all about the long game, anyway.
“That Kid Sucks”
Sometimes I would console myself about what I perceived as my own kids’ shortcomings by focusing on another kid who was still trying to build some life skills. I couldn’t help it. I just needed to know that my kid wasn’t the worst.
Truth time: everyone’s kid is the worst at some point. Maybe another little boy tried to bite my son one day, but my son threw a puzzle piece at some other kid the next day. They are three years old and they have bad days just like us.
“OMG. The Smell.”
My kids were always the last ones picked up, as I’m a working mom who would hightail it from the office to get to their preschool before the stroke of six. By then, there was sometimes a ripe odor emanating from the bathroom, since it was shared with a toddler class that was not totally potty-trained. The place was always clean, and never failed any inspections, but every now and then, the smell would hit me when I’d walk in that classroom and it was, um, intense (this coming from a 20-year veteran of NYC subway commuting, so you know I know what I’m talking about).
“This Art Is Terrible… “
My kids’ teachers impressed me with the art projects they came up with throughout the year. A lion’s head out of a paper plate and clothes pins was adorable and all, but the novelty did wear off and at the year’s end. I would select a few pieces that I thought my kids would get a kick out of when they become adults. The rest I would, let's say, recycle.
“… And They Won’t Stop Making It”
I recycled a lot. Still, the look on their faces, when they would see the look on my face when they would present me with their latest masterpiece, is what will live on forever in my mind. Memories of their joy in creating “works of art” are sacred to me.
“'Dramatic Play’ Sounds Kind Of, Dramatic”
Somewhere between my childhood and now, the term “pretend” has been re-coined as “dramatic play.” Was this to help caregivers distinguish between little kids’ pretend friends, and the imaginative scenarios they make up during center time? As someone who does not have a degree in early childhood education, “dramatic play” just comes across as kind of heavy to describe sitting in an empty cardboard box, pantomiming wheel-turning motions and making “vroom vroom” sounds.
“I Will Never Be As Good As Those Teachers”
My children were fortunate to have simply amazing teachers in their earliest years of school. I’m convinced it’s what has helped shape them to like school, and enjoy learning (at least the parts that don’t require filling in bubbles on answer sheets). I truly believed the teachers loved every single kid in their classes. The bonds were palpable and, of course, my kids would save all their whining and terrible behavior for me when we’d get home. “That’s normal,” Miss L. would remind me, patting my arm. I guess, but it would sting a bit when I’d see my kids lavish affection on their teachers and get all grumpy with me when there wasn’t more than one flavor of ice cream in our freezer.
“Why Can’t My Kid Eat Like That At Home?”
My kids still, at ages eight and six, have a tough time staying seated at the dinner table. They find new foods they no longer like and they forget to use their silverware. Yet, when they were three years old, and sat at the community lunch table at their preschool, they ate their snacks and lunch without complaint or even much fidgeting. Sometimes I’d feel that school got the best parts of them, and I got the hard stuff. The non-fun work. Still, I guess I’d rather have my kid behave at school than not at all.
“Another Daytime Celebration, Really?”
As a full-time working mom, attending school events that took place during the day was a challenge. I could not do it all and I had to make choices and sometimes those choices came with a side of guilt.
The Thanksgiving banquet and being a guest reader were celebrations I couldn’t miss. For the rest, I was lucky to have other parents who understood and would text me pics of my kid having a blast, even though I couldn’t make it. I wish schools could find ways to accommodate working parents better, but then I realize that’s such an old way of thinking. I think employers need to find ways to accommodate their employees who value life (whether it includes kids or not) outside the office.