The other day, my sweet friend Meg, who has an 8-month-old little fella and writes Spicy Magnolia, asked me in comments if I had put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out program and if so, at what age.
Well, I emailed her back, because as y’all know I email almost everyone sooner or later (so if you don’t want to get an email from me, don’t leave a comment) and when I finally hit the send button, I was several chapters deep into my dissertation on preschool. It was like I was just waiting for someone to ask me about our preschool experience.
Because I’m not one who is dialed into what is hip and happening in the motherhood, it probably would have never occurred to me all on my own to put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out or preschool program. But one Sunday at church a friend handed me a flyer for the MDO program and suggested that I might want to enroll him. At that point Sean was two and I was kind of itching for the chance to go into a TJMaxx dressing room alone, so I slapped myself on the forehead, had a V-8 and then enrolled him in their twice weekly program.
Every mother I ever talked to told me how much her little one loves preschool, how they would ask to go to preschool on Saturday, how they couldn’t wait to get up and go to preschool, how much they love playing with the other kids. And I figured that Sean would be the same. I figured wrong.
So I enrolled Sean in preschool at our church the year he was two. He pretty much hated it. He got really sick a couple of times and it just never felt like the right thing. Yet I persisted. I was bent on giving it the old preschool try. I was bent on Sean being one of those kids who loves preschool. Everyone kept telling me that he’d get used to it, that he needed to be with other children, but both of those things were false. The only benefit to having Sean in preschool was for me and TJMaxx.
The second year of preschool, when he was three, was the apex of preschool misery. I moved him to a church school closer to our neighborhood, one that came highly recommended and was touted as being loved by all children! I feel the need to exclaim that last sentence, hence the exclamation point. Neither one of us ever found our groove at that school; it was just a bad match all the way around. He would cry all the way there and I would cry all the way home. And I would wonder, What is wrong with us? Everyone loves this school.
And so every other day for an entire school year, I put him in the car thinking that today would be the day that he would magically transform into a kid who loves preschool and playing with other children. In spite of my blind and hopeful persistence, it never happened. To this day, nearly three years later, when we drive by that school, he’ll point to it and say, “Boy! I’m glad I don’t go there anymore!” When I try to find out what it was about the school that caused him so much dyspepsia, all I get out of him is that they made him take naps.
The third year, I enrolled him in the nap-free school he is at now and although he would have rather stayed home, he didn’t hate it. He grew to even like it. As the year progressed, he learned to like playing with the children to some degree, but always preferred playing with the teacher. We skipped school a lot and went to the zoo.
We are now in our third and final year at this school and finally, I think I can say that he loves it really likes it. I think a lot of that has to do with the school and the people who run it and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is now ready to be at school. But given a choice, he’d still rather stay home with me or skip school and go to the zoo.
Having the benefit of the backward glance, I can see now that in the name of “hanging in there” I spent far too long trying to hammer a kid who didn’t want to go to school and play with other kids into a kid who loves preschool and wants to play with other kids. My mistake. My bad. Mea culpa.
My advice to Meg, which she didn’t ask for, was this: Know Thy Child.
Had I paid more attention to what I know about my child and what I could see with my own eyes and less attention to what others were telling me about how children are supposed to be, I could have saved myself and Sean a fair amount of dyspepsia.