Corey went to an in-home daycare just before he turned one. It was a fabulous place, but took about half my earnings to keep him there. A year later, he was able to go to nursery school where Grandma (AKA Saint Margaret of the Children) was the director. It was good in terms of academics and potty training and excellent for my wallet. Nursery school on the family plan cost the same as about seven days at the in-home daycare.
On the other hand, within about a week Corey learned about Power Rangers, guns and fighting. And he found out what it felt like when a cute little red headed girl with an equally fiery personality chomped on his arm. A few times.
Preschool was at a private Christian school (yes, my son heard the word of god. No, no lightning strikes at pick up or drop off. I am not surprised). Academically excellent, this place was more expensive and the parent population was older and more professional, which seemed to translate into calmer classmates. Only by then, genetics and environment and who knows what else combined to begin giving hints of what was in store from my beloved son. And the preschool had one teacher who insisted that the children move from one room or space to another with their hands clasped on top of their heads.
Like mini criminals being taught to assume the position.
Whether it's fair or rational or not, I associate preschool with the start of Corey's problems. The place where testing would show that he was functioning academically like a seven year old, but where brief observation would point out glaring deficiencies.
Apparently I harbor a grudge against preschool.
Having Grandma care for our girls in her home, teaching them their letters and numbers, shapes and colors, and keeping them away from those yucky kids with foul mouths and hurtful hands...
I won't lie, it has been a dream come true.
For the better part of two years, Madelyn has been talking about going to preschool. We told her she could go when she turned four.
And then we made her wait another four and a half months until the new year started up.
I got referrals from no fewer than three sources and ended up with a list of about 25 places in the cities around my job.
Looked at online reviews, made a few calls and narrowed it to six.
Note to preschools and daycare centers everywhere: If you have an outgoing message instead of a person answering you're phone, it's a no. If your outgoing message talks about your "curriclium," it's a hell no.
Presented the list to Margaret, who chopped one off.
Tom, Margaret and I came up with a list of questions aside from the ones I'd used to grill whomever answered the phone at each site.
Yes, I did organize the questions into four categories and make a spread sheet so we could do forced scoring after each visit.
Note to preschools and daycare administrators everywhere: Your teachers should acknowledge the parents of their potential future students. Ignoring us and/or scowling in our general direction will not encourage us to leave our special snowflakes with you.
Special note to Montessori schools: If you spend "the first two hours doing paperwork with the kids," then you are not a Montessori, regardless of how many fun looking wood toys you have sitting off to the side. And if you are the owner of said school because you "fell into it while going to medical school" and then "decided to go for it while pursuing a criminal justice degree and working on computers" you really don't have the focus we are seeking. Also, "ingredience" is not a word. It's bad enough that you charge $165 a week and make the parents provide meals and snacks. At least have the decency to spell check your damn list of demands.
Do I seem overly harsh? I probably am. As I say, I hold a grudge against preschools and day cares everywhere. I didn't even know it until recently.
Madelyn started preschool last week. She had a "free day" to check it out toward the end of August.
We signed Mad up to go twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays. Of course, school started the week of a holiday, but I'd rather her be shorted one day than miss the whole week.
She and I had a few good talks about school. One went like this:
"Blah blah blah and then Mama will come pick you up after lunch."
"You're going to leave me there?"
"I am. Well, I mean... you'll see that the other parents don't stick around. I could stay if you're not comfortable with me leaving you, it's just not how most people do it."
"I'm comfortable with you leaving me."
"Well, alrighty then."
The free day went well enough. There was a cash register to play with, and Madelyn decorated a dog tracing with little pieces of brown yarn.
(Saint Margaret of the Children says that she would never make a tracing; children should be allowed to use their own imaginations. In case you were wondering. Rowr!)
But when we picked her up, she burst into tears.
Because Mama left her.
Wednesday morning, Fynn left with Daddy in the wee hours and headed off to Grandma's. I'd taken her with us on the free day and it was hard to explain to her why Sister was over there doing that while she was supposed to stay over here with me.
Madelyn and I had talked a few times about how I would stay for a little while, until she was comfortable, and then I would go to work and return after lunch, but before the other kids went to nap. She seemed to get it.
She would venture off for a few seconds and then come back for a quick hug or to ask a question. This checking in reminded me of her crawling and toddling stage when she was just starting to explore away from me. Once she was settled in, I repeated our plan.
"I am going to work. I'll be back after you eat lunch, but before the other kids go to nap."
And then I left after a smooch and a hug.
At some point in the morning, her teacher got a break. Who knows if she pointed out the new adult in the room or not or said that she would be back? Most of the kids have probably been "going to school" for years already. Probably at that same place.
Madelyn was upset and crying when Ms. Juanita came back.
And then, there was this point where the kids had to come in from playing at the playground outside.
Oh, the tears!
Well, listen. I know my girl. This is the one for whom there are "let's not have a meltdown" discussions before during and after a trip to the park.
But Ms. Juanita actually seemed to attribute all of Mad's crying (off and on for two hours) to the fact that, you guessed it...
She missed Mama.
Here's what I don't get: I am not the one she clings to at home.
She has mostly stopped asking Tom to go to the potty with her in the past couple weeks. Me? Months ago. Yeah, because I make her head off on her own and then show up when she's almost done.
At night when she calls downstairs to say she needs someone to go with her? I ask her to feel around on the wall and flip the switch.
"Now you can see where you're going. Go ahead and go."
I am that mom. Not the coddling, babying, delaying independence type of parent at all.
But when I went into her room and the teacher said, "Oh, I'm so glad you're here. She's crying. She wants her mama." And then my girl runs over to me sobbing with swollen, red eyes and a red nose...
I scooped her up and was rocking her in a toddler sized chair and whispering little words of love into her hair when Tom walked in (a total surprise to Mad and I that momentarily made the sobbing start up again).
We decided to try again on Monday. Sunday evening I took her out to get new school shoes. She talked about not wanting to be left at school. About feeling sad and missing me.
"Daddy and I really want you to try again."
She hung her head and quietly said, "I know." Like it was her duty as our daughter to go and do this terrible thing, but she would. For us.
Monday morning I suggested she wear a particular shirt.
"Do you see the word right there? Do you know what it says?"
"Yeah, what's it say?"
"It says peace. Do you know what that means?"
"Yeah, what's it mean?" (We have never had a problem with her saying no. She says yes to everything.)
"It's a calm, good feeling that means everything is going to be okay. It's how I want you to feel while you're at school."
With tears welling in her eyes, she said, "I just don't want to go. I don't want you to leave me there."
I opened my mouth to say something wise. All that came out was, "You do not have to go."
That afternoon I spoke with Ms. Juanita about Mad's time in class last week on Wednesday. No surprise to me, she did great on all of the schoolwork. (During and around the crying, she did all of Wednesday's assignments, plus made up for being out on Tuesday. This is our girl who thinks reading is good, spelling is fun and counting her money is awesome.) Mad did well socially, too. She played with the other kids and had no problems sharing.
Although he denies it, I suspect Tom was pretty upset with me for not making her go on Monday. Or something. We were all upset for maybe different reasons, I guess.
I have strong feelings about what the right thing is to do here.
To me, she is simply not ready. This is a girl who knows what she is thinking and how she is feeling, and she knows how to express herself clearly. I believe that should be respected. (Plus, why are we paying for her to be tortured eight hours a week? I think we could at least wait until she's a teen to do that. Makes a lot more sense!)
Unless I'm wrong. Because there is this history with me, my kid and preschool. Going through all the prep work to find the right place for Mad made me realize that. And if there's one thing that having your first two kids 15 years apart can teach you, it's that some of those times when you thought you made the best decision... you did not.
Or, as I said to Tom, I am prepared to stand my ground on this one. I will fight to the bitter end. However, I don't want you to just agree with me.
Yeah, because that's not crazy talk.
This is probably not much of a surprise, but Tom and I didn't rush into a decision regarding Madelyn and preschool. We discussed with one another and with others. We weighed options and tried to discern which freaking way would be the best one for Madelyn.
Note to jackasses everywhere: The statement, "She's gonna have to learn sometime," is asinine. She is four. In our world, preschool is an option. As long as that's true, she does not have to learn it right now.
Also, I am not kidding when I say that my motto for this school year is, "I have a limited tolerance for jackassery." Forewarned is forearmed.
We talked with Madelyn. Mostly I stayed back from those conversations because I wonder if I'm projecting something that she's picking up. I hope not.
Somehow in all the brouhaha between Monday and yesterday, Madelyn decided that she would go to school again. But she would bring her stuffed rocket. She changed her own name to Rocket, too. (Yes, again.)
It was all going so well. Right up to the point when I called Tom. I was there and I'm still not sure what happened. We ended up going straight to Grandma's house.
I floated the idea of trying again later.
"Maybe we can try again when you're a little older, like four and a half or in the spring."
"Maybe when I'm five."
"What about when you're four and a half?"
"What about when I'm five and a half?"
So... that went well.