Back to (Pre) School
I often think of our first preschool, as the summer winds down. It was September when I had one of those first parent episodes where I trusted my instincts and it did not end disastrously, much to my surprise.
“Your son seems to prefer playing alone,” the preschool teacher remarked, after one month with my toddler. Inferred: This may be a bad sign.
Given that my 3-year-old was quite sociable at home — some might say chatty — I should have asked more questions, worried less. But the teacher had taught kindergarten, which gave her credibility. And so I fretted over the next few weeks, scrutinizing every playground encounter. Is he mixing? Wait, he threw down that kid’s shovel. Why is he alone under the slide with the dump truck?
My Greek chorus of friends would counter with the usual refrain: So what?
As weeks wore on, a question I’d shoved from my mind boomeranged back, and back. Who gives up public education benefits for low daycare wages?
Her answer was that she got tired of bureaucracy, which took her away from the students. Sounded good.
Six weeks in, I delivered my son’s forgotten lunch mid-morning. He laughed and ran around the yard with six others. Later that week, the teacher again mentioned that my son was playing alone, building blocks in class solo, again with the tone of “I’m just letting you know….”
So I asked my kid, and other kids, how does your day go? What games does Mrs. So-and-So play at recess?
Turned out, the teacher smoked, and didn’t play with the kids at all. Rather than outdoor time with the kids, she went “on break,” as my son put it. She thus had no idea that he was playing fine in the yard. It turned out, she’d said the same to other parents. It turned out, the class was a bit cluttered and playing alone with the blocks preserved precious breathing room for a few kids like mine.
People are human and have their days, and this family-owned center had a terrific playground built by parents, and windows galore. Still, the vibe was off, and I missed that due to its service to my need: It had an opening when we needed one. Daily at pickup, 10 ‘til 6, the secretary was sporting her handbag and standing at the door, meeting me with silent, pursed lips. You again.
By the time I’d spent 40 minutes to reach the daycare, I was frazzled and met with reproach. My friends and I would wonder: Who works only until 5 anymore? These centers don’t fit our schedules.
On a whim one lunch hour, I walked across the street from my Long Beach office to the World Trade Center, and entered a chain daycare called Childtime. A coworker had described the place two years earlier as windowless, when her son was a newborn. But it was five minutes away.
Come to find out, Childtime was floor-to-ceiling windows — the varying naptimes for snoozing infants necessitated shading just one room. The play yard was so enormous that there was a track for big trikes. More importantly, every teacher seemed happy to be there. Huge. The director was Celeste Perez, whose family is a San Pedro fixture. Teachers were bilingual. Parents hailed from a diverse range of jobs: waitresses, FBI agents, government clerks, engineers, lawyers.
My son visited. He ran open-armed into the yard of trikes. We moved him there two weeks later.
The notion had seemed so scary, but the place defied the rap on childcare chains. We felt we’d joined a family. We remain friends with those classmates today.
All this is to say: Trust your gut. As a parent, you know more than you think you know. If something seems not right over the course of a few days, or multiple times a month, your Mom radar — Mamadar? — is telling you something your brain doesn’t yet want to see.
Go with it.
Related Topics: Ready for School
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