My daughter began her academic career when she was two-years-old. A local church had pre-school programs for three and four-year-olds and what they called “play-school” for the slightly younger set. It was only two days per week and it was only two and a half hours long.
Potty training was not pre-requisite for the play-school, but they followed the local school-system’s year, and so, students had to be two-years-old before September 1. My daughter has an October birthday. She started the two-year-old program and turned three a month later. When I ran into her teacher at the grocery store, she gushed over how smart my daughter was, “She can count and she knows the alphabet and the colors. There really isn’t anything left for us to teach her in the twos class.” As much as every parent wants to hear that her kid is a genius, I knew my daughter was ahead of the other students because she was almost a year older than some. There’s a big difference between being two and being three. Don’t we all know two-years-olds who aren’t yet speaking in full sentences and three-year-olds who can read? One is not necessarily delayed, and the other isn’t necessarily advanced.
Truthfully, I didn’t enroll her in play-school expecting her to learn much. I did so to give her a break from me—and from her little brother. She had always been a social child, and I knew she would love spending time with the other kids and with the teachers. On her first day, I dropped her off and there were no tears. She smiled and waved to me excitedly as I drove away. “So much for separation anxiety,” I thought. When I picked her up at 11 a.m., she proclaimed that “It was the best day ever!” Then, she hugged her baby brother and asked, “Did you miss me while I was away at school?”
So far, she has made it through three years of pre-school and ¾ of a kindergarten school-year loving everything about the educational experience—the teachers, the classroom, the students, the homework, the projects, the school bus. Just ask her, and she will tell you that it’s all good!
Now, it’s her brother’s turn. He starts a 4-year-old pre-K program on Tuesday. He will go two days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Despite his sister’s positive experiences, I am wrought with anxiety. He’s more than a year older than she was when she started pre-school, but he’s so baby-ish—and I mean that in the sweetest way.
Before he was born, moms of sons would tell me, “If you ever have a boy, get ready! They aren’t independent like girls. They want their mama to do everything for them. It’s exhausting, but boys are so sweet and affectionate.” And how has that prophesy held up? Is my son unbelievably affectionate showering me with hugs, kisses, and snuggling? Yes! And does he expect me to do every little thing for him? Definitely. Does he whine, pout and cry when I don’t? Uh-huh. So, would I describe him as clingy? Oh, yeah—especially when I compare him to his sister.
And yes, I know that you aren’t supposed to compare your children. I know that. But it is nearly impossible not to do so occasionally when you have only two kids and they are close in age. Still, I do my best not to label them. I try not to think of my daughter as the Independent, Confident One and my son as the Sensitive, Nurturing One because I don’t want her to ever feel she isn’t capable of sensitivity or for him to see himself as lacking confidence. Both are great kids with an equally valuable set of personality traits and their share of unique challenges. That they are siblings doesn’t mean that they are or even should be anything alike.
I have used my appreciation of their differences as part of my justification for not sending him to pre-school sooner. “She was ready at two. He’s not ready at three.” “She is the kind of kid who craves the company of other children while he loves his one-on-one time with me.”
Of course, some, if not most, of my reasons for keeping him home up until now were practical ones. The two-year-old play-school program at the church is expensive and he was eligible for the enrollment there at a time when we were first coming to realize the financial impact that my mother-in-law’s care would have on us. The money just wasn’t there. I rationalized that I would just wait a year and send him to the three-year-old pre-school at the rec center—the one his sister had attended at 3 and 4. When he was old enough for that program, he was not yet potty-trained.
Potty-training is the pre-requisition for almost every drop-off activity for pre-school aged children. I understand why some parents get stressed out about it and try to potty train as early as possible. I don’t judge them, but I don’t do it their way either—and I know I am risking harsh judgment for just sharing how I went about potty-training. With my children, I found it was best to just wait until they took off their own diaper and climbed up on the toilet on their own. My son did that shortly before his fourth birthday. He declared, “I will never wear a diaper again!” and he hasn’t. It didn’t take three weeks or even three days—it just happened without it being any extra work for me. The accidents have been very few. I’ve never had to clean out a little, un-flushable, toilet. I don’t have to ask, “Do you have to go? Are you sure? How ‘bout now? Do you have to go? Do you have to tinkle? Do ya? Do ya?”
Let’s be honest. If you have to carry around a plastic potty in the back of your car because your child isn’t ready to use a public restroom, how is that easier than keeping him/her in diapers? Sure, you may be saving money by not buying diapers and that is fantastic—I’m not belittling your methods or motives–but easier? I’m not seeing it.
So, my son could have/should have started pre-school in late August when all the other kids went back to school, but he wasn’t potty-trained. He could have/should have started in January after the Christmas break and at the beginning of a new semester, but he missed the potty-training deadline there, too. In fact, he made his famous “I will never wear diapers again!” declaration two days after the deadline! Two days!
And so, we waited for the spring quarter. March. He is transferring in in March. I cringe when I think about the late start. That alone is the source of my ambivalence. These other kids have been together since late August, and my baby will be the new kid. For some, this would be no big deal, but for a sensitive soul who hasn’t had that much recent experience with his peer group, I am worried that it is going to feel awkward for him. I keep asking myself, “How much of a social disadvantage is this?” and answering, “I don’t know. I guess we will find out.”
So, given my anxiety—and I am not by nature an anxious perso, why did I enroll him in the spring quarter? Why not just wait until fall? Wouldn’t that have been the best thing to do? Maybe, but I have my reasons.
I suspect that one of the reasons my son doesn’t take to a group setting is that socially he hasn’t had many outlets. Our weekly playgroup fell apart at the start of the school year because his friends were all going to different pre-schools and had different schedules. I’m still church-searching and so he doesn’t go to Sunday School with any regularity. We don’t live in a neighborhood with an abundance of kids, and this winter really hasn’t been one for playground meet-ups. Basically, he has spent months with me as his primary playmate and companion, and he needs a break from me.
I have been taking him to pre-school programs at the library, museums, and nature centers –when they weren’t cancelled due to inclement weather. If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the United States, you have probably gotten used to calling the weather “inclement” this winter.
We both love the Mommy & Me pre-school programs—they are fun and educational. However, they don’t require that children really interact with a peer-group for a sustained period of time. Kids mostly do the activities independent of one another. Each child is there with a parent, grandparent, or nanny who acts as a social safety net, and it’s a different group of people at each program even if the program is held at the same time and same place every week. You don’t really make friends. You don’t get to know anyone—unless you are especially out-going.
Besides, if I am honest with myself, pre-school may be a better parent than I am right now. Between the months of inclement weather and life in our sandwichy household, we have developed some pretty bad habits concerning how we spend our time. On those days in which my mother-in-law’s care-giver comes and I feel the pressure to vacate even when we have nowhere to go, we end up eating fast food and hanging out at the fast food indoor playground where he may or may not interact with other kids. On those days in which we are home and I am caring for his grandmother, he watches too much television—way more than I ever thought I would allow my children to watch. Sometimes, he just plays alone, and that’s fine. He has a great imagination, but I can tell he is lonely, too. I am so tired of him asking, “Mommy, will you play with me?” and me answering, “I have to feed your grandma first” or “Not until Grandma is done in the bathroom.”
So, that’s why I enrolled him in pre-school—even though neither of us is as ready as I would like us to be. I am looking for pre-school to provide him with two days of structured, quality, supervised activities because I am not capable of providing that on my own right now. I want him to eat a sit-down lunch that isn’t comprised of chicken nuggets and fries. I want something in his weekly routine to be consistent—or, um, routine. I could feel guilty because I know that I am not providing him with all that, but I know I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances. Sometimes, good parenting is handing your kid off to someone else.
I also see pre-school as an introduction to a whole lot of activities he will enjoy in the future. Because he is four and potty-trained, he could go to nature camp this summer. He could take swimming lessons. He just has to get used to me not always being at his side. Pre-school, in his case, is a gateway to more independence and that’s a good thing.
It starts tomorrow. I am praying that this will be a beneficial and smooth transition. And if it isn’t smooth, may it at least be beneficial in the long run.