"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Although he wasn't even quite three, he was Ready.

And...even considering that, given his October birthday, he would have an additional year of preschool...there wasn't an ounce of me that thought we should wait.

As the stars would align, despite our late enrollment, the Most Highly Recommended Preschool in our new town had a late opening for the exact slot that we wanted for Max.

It felt like kismet.

And so, this past September, we sent Max to preschool.

Max is the Perfect Preschooler. He loves to learn. He loves projects and art. He loves to sing and participate in finger plays. He loves books and puzzles and fine motor activities. He knows all of his letters, their sounds, and how to put those sounds together to make words. He can count to 100 by 10s...and 1s and routinely talks out addition and subtraction stories while he plays and, especially, eats. He loves storytelling and playing pretend. He is inquisitive and curious and easy to engage. Max was born to go to school.

But still, those first few weeks were hard. I wasn't too surprised...it was, after all, his first time away from home. He hadn't even ever been left with a babysitter (not while he was awake, anyway). And so we pushed through those first few teary drop-offs and we both earned a few stripes on our Bravery Coats. He became more comfortable around Halloween and, as far as I knew, by Thanksgiving, he Liked school. He was making friends and telling stories about games he played on the playground and songs he sang during music.

After the winter break, though, we returned to teary drop-offs and night-before-school jitters. I was getting the sense that he was feeling Real Anxiety about school, not just the "I'd rather just stay home with Mommy" blues. We trudged through about a month of tears (mostly, but not all, his). And then things got Ugly.

Sad bedtimes on Monday and Wednesday nights as he anticipated school the next day.
Sobbing all morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays as we got ready to leave the house.
A clingy, puddle-on-the-floor boy who needed to be pried off me by his teachers.
And worst of all, "I just don't like school," all day every day, to anyone who would listen.

Between snow days, a recurrent cold virus, and the fact that he was only registered for school twice a week, Max only went to school a handful of times in February and early March. His sporadic attendance surely didn't help matters and our Preschool situation was looking particularly grim.

It was around this time that I started to notice things about this Most Highly Recommended Preschool in Town that weren't quite as glowy as I had once imagined. His classroom wasn't as clean as it could be. The "healthy" snacks they served weren't as well-balanced as they could be. The artwork that he brought home was more Product- over Process-Oriented. The classroom was seriously lacking in imaginative playthings....there is no kitchen or dress-up station, no building blocks! Where is the sensory table?! When I would pop in a bit early to pick Max up, I more often than not witnessed his two teachers chatting together rather than interacting with the kids. But worst of all....it FINALLY occurred to me that my happy, eager-to-learn Perfect For Preschool boy, wasn't Happy.

As kismet would have it (and this time I'm trusting that it's the Real Deal), it was ALSO around this time that we got wind of a new preschool opening up in town. It will be an at-home preschool...just one teacher and a small group of children. The teacher is Reggio-trained and a former elementary school teacher. This isn't going to be just a job for her...it's her dream come true: She is INSPIRED to teach. I've met her only a few times but we clicked instantly (and Max loves her, too). She's one of my favorite people that I've met here so far....she's a lot like me in that the natural Teacher in her comes through loud and clear in her parenting. She's NOT a lot like me in that she can train for a half-marathon while at the same time engage her kids in meaningful daily learning-through-play experiences, set up an at-home-preschool, keep an immaculately clean house, manage to style her hair in the morning, and also read. Books. That don't have pictures. Actually, I could have stopped at the "half-marathon," because if you know me even a little, you know that ain't happenin'.


So we've signed Max up to start at her new preschool in the fall. Filling out that paperwork took some of the pressure off about this year. I didn't have to worry SO much about the cleanliness or the snack or the lack of sensory table at his current school because it's not like that will be his only experience between now and kindergarten...

But, then, why are we still sending him?
To give him "something to do?"
To give me a break?
I don't need one. Not yet. He's only three.
And he's unhappy.

This morning, our first day back at school after defeating a particularly nasty virus, was epically bad. I called Sam and my sister in between Max's sobfests as I tried to get him ready for school. They both said the same thing: It's PRESCHOOL. And he's ONLY THREE. If it's not working, it's not worth the pain.

So I called his teacher. I told her that he wasn't coming in today and, quite honestly, I wasn't sure if he'd be coming back to finish the year at all. I was surprised, to say the least, when she responded with, "Yeah, well he's been pretty miserable lately." I knew he'd had a tough time, but "miserable?" Shouldn't I have been notified of "miserable?" I went on to say that we really wanted to give him a sense of completion so we were hoping to stick it out until spring break. We could even make a big deal of his last day to send the message that he finished out "his" year of school. "Well, Ms. E and I will do what we can to support him if you do decide to send him back. But we totally understand if you decide to just pull him."


Not quite the loving, sympathetic response I had been hoping for.

So I quit.

And I second-guessed the decision all day. Did I do the right thing? Did I walk on the right side of Doing What My Child Needs vs. Giving Up Too Soon?

My four sounding boards (husband, sister, mom, bestie) all agreed that I did...they all love this boy like I do, after all.

And then I was reminded of my brother, Jack, affectionately known around my family as Preschool Drop-Out. After his less-than-stellar pre-kindergarten showing, he ended up attending the top-ranked public university in the country. He's now pursuing his dream career and has one of the most admirable moral compasses of anyone I've ever known. He's a hard-worker and dependable and, given his track record of serial monogamy--has sticktoitiveness. So if that's the path I'm signing Max up for by quitting preschool for him, I'm okay with it.

Lesson Learned:

I'm not a quitter. Until I am. And this time, it feels like the right call.

1 comment :

  1. Oh Sarah!! This post both broke my heart and filled it with joy!! I want Max to be having a wonderful school year of course, but I guess that wouldn't have brought you to my door just a few weeks ago;) I think you made the perfect decision, and sometimes as mamas we really just have to go with our gut. (it is usually right too!). I am overjoyed to have Max in my class next year, and more importantly to have your family as a part of my life! We are definitely kindred spirits in so many ways! love, clare