He only just turned two, but LM is already in school. Sort of. I’m not sure if it counts as “preschool” – it’s a “two’s” program, a pre-preschool. It seems like we keep starting them younger and younger, doesn’t it? Part of me wondered whether I needed to enroll him in such a program — couldn’t he just play and be a kid for a little while longer?
And was I just giving in to peer pressure? I saw my other mom friends sending their kids to school, so I thought LM should be as well. Then I thought of that scene in one of my favorite movies, Baby Boom, when Diane Keaton overhears the moms at the park talking about how they need to get into a good preschool, so they can get into a good kindergarten, a good prep school, a good college. If you don’t have your kid enrolled early you’re “behind.”
And I also think about the current state of education in America (a topic which I’m not really qualified to talk about since I’m not totally informed about it, but I will anyway), and how kindergarten is now like first grade and they get mounds of homework and are stressed out about tests and getting ADHD from sitting too much and not being allowed to play outside. And how in some European countries they don’t even attempt to teach anything educational until kids are, like, six; and how Europeans are smarter than us so they must be doing something right. And how I have no idea how to do that Common Core math sh*t and so I won’t even be able to help him with his homework. Speaking of which, are we supposed to “help” our kids with their homework so it’s all correct when they hand it in or are we supposed to let them make their own mistakes? And if I let LM make mistakes because that’s how he learns will that put him behind all the other kids whose parents do their homework for them? People are so competitive when it comes to their kids that they’re teaching them some really bad lessons. Is that what school is going to be for LM?
OK, hold on, back it up. LM just had his first day of pre-preschool!
Even after going through all that in my head, I’m pretty sure I made the right decision to put him into school. Not because I’m worried about him getting in college (yet). It’s because I think, from what I observed on his first day, it was just the right level of structure and play. They had open gym, they listened to a story, they did an art project, they played in the sensory (i.e. sand) table, they sang songs, they played with musical instruments and blocks. I admit to wondering if it was enough — was I just paying to have him run around the room? — but on closer inspection I think the class was a good way to get him into some kind of routine and to have some structure in his day. And let’s face it: I think LM is bored at home with me all day. I don’t want to over schedule him, but I want him to learn and have new experiences. It’s good for him to be with other kids; and it’s good for him to be without me.
What was actually harder was me being without him.
The night before his first day I couldn’t sleep. I had jitters, just like back on my own first days of school. I was nervous about leaving him, nervous about how he would do, if he would miss me, how his behavior would reflect on me as a parent. I double-checked that I had all the necessary required items (diapers, change of clothes) but forgot to print and fill out the paperwork. I was worried we’d be late (as I often am), and this was one more thing I would need to do before heading out the door.
But the morning came and everything fell into place. We got there on time, and before I knew it, class was about to begin. But not before one unfortunate mom got barfed on by her hysterical child. At least LM isn’t freaking out like that, I thought.
The program I enrolled him in is “gradual separation,” which means that parents can be there for the first class or as long as they feel is necessary. But of the ten kids in the class, only three parents stayed, myself included. Some of the kids had definitely been there before, so that was probably why other parents didn’t feel the need to hover. The class moves between three rooms, and after the first room one of the three moms left; another left during the second. That left me there alone watching the kids. And actually, it was kind of boring (hopefully just for me, not for them). So then I made myself scarce as well during snack time.
One of the other moms and I hung out in the hallway, trying to peek through the windows without letting our children see us. Because we are normally with them almost every second of every day, it was hard to not know what they were doing, if only for an hour. But every time I caught a glimpse of him, he was laughing, playing, bouncing around and generally enjoying himself.
I realized this was my first taste of what it is like to watch your child grow up, that slow process in which they inch by inch detach themselves from you. It almost felt physical, like something had been removed from my body. After so much close contact, he wasn’t there for me to hold. And I had to let him go where I wouldn’t be to take care of him.
This isn’t going to be easy, is it?
Do you find first days of school difficult as a parent?