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March 29, 2012

School Daze

Preschool for Wombat: I refuse to get all hypertigercopter-mom about it AND YET. It's hard to toss one's hand dismissively and say "Whatever; he'll be fine just about anyplace" when one is simultaneously under attack from barbarian tribal chants of ALL YOUR PAYCHECK ARE BELONG TO US. You might not want to care so much, but They make you.

($10K/yr for preschool is LOW for the Bay Area. If we find a place for $10K, I will kiss its foundation with my open mouth. For $10K, you can bet your bippy I'm going to care what services I'm paying for more than I would if it cost $2K a year or was a casual co-op with some neighbor ladies. Even though I don't waaaaaant to.)

But get crazy about the process--overthinking and overplanning and overemphasizing things that should probably be emphasized not at all? Je refuse! And yet...you kind of HAVE to be crazy about it, whether you refuse or not. You HAVE to tour these places, you HAVE to fill out an application (and pay an effing non-refundable fee for the privilege), and for most programs you HAVE to do all of this a good six months in advance in order to even get a place on the waiting list.

And if you're us, you do all this as the couple who chose a daycare in one week after considering a grand total of two options, picking the one you did mostly because it was the more convenient and affordable. (And then turned out to be so awesome we never want to leave.)

In short: We are not cut out for this parenting crap.

I obviously care about my son's education and enrichment and personal development blah dee blah bleep blorp, but I'm also quite aware that he's THREE, and at three I was going to preschool in a variety of neighbors' basements and on a schedule best described as "brief" and "occasional." I'm pretty sure we mostly did crafts and sang songs, not sat in a locally handhewn desk for academic instruction six hours a day. Wombat is so beyond excited to go to "school," but I don't think that kind of school school is what he has in mind exactly. And neither do I.

We toured two places yesterday--a Montessori and a kind of Montessori-lite (or so it seemed to me) that they call "progressive." The first place we looked at (which is the second listed above--I probably could have planned this better) was lovely. I wasn't entirely jazzed about the age structure of the classrooms (the kids in the 2-3 and 3-4 classes were doing things that felt kind of babyish), but it was bright and cheery and full of activity and kid-noise and adorable little potties all in a row, bless their shiny porcelain hearts. In one room, Wombat sat right down at one of the tables and a teacher brought him a piece of paper and some paints, and when he was done he marched to the sink and washed his hands with soap and water and then moseyed over to the bookshelf, chose a promising title, and settled into a miniature checkered armchair by the fish tank. At the Montessori school, by contrast, he was told to "stay over here" on the playground more than once by someone who was NOT HIS PARENT.

We were assured, however, that the Montessori school has "produced many reputable students," so perhaps that is what's important. Except...eeeeeeehhhh, it felt weird.

Now, I'm sure you love your Montessori, and I'm sure the parents and children enrolled at the Montessori we toured yesterday love their Montessori too, but wow, I really (really, really) wanted to love that school too, and it wasn't until I realized the pro/con list was heavily unbalanced that I allowed myself to acknowledge it wasn't right for us. I think Wombat would be a great Montessori kid, l do, but I don't think either Simon or I is cut out to be a Montessori parent, especially thrown into the mix with people who are really into being Montessori parents, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

(No judgment! To each his own! Do what works for your family!) (But we probably won't want to hang out with you socially!)

We still have more schools to tour, but believe me, no one is as surprised as I am that we're leaning toward the school that seems more FUN. I'm a certified supernerd who adored school, thrived on awards and rewards, always tried to be The Best, etc. etc. and, yes, I did/do probably put too much stock in academic excellence, I know this to be true.

BUT...I also have a kid who needs to be challenged, who asks to be challenged, who should be challenged. He read us a bedtime story earlier this week. If you ask him whether a creepy-crawly critter is an insect or not, he'll count the legs, count the body segments, and check for antennae. ("No, this is an arachnid, Mom.") Last week I showed him a silhouette of a dinosaur and asked what kind of animal it was and he said, "An apatosaurus!" A breeze blew across my open mouth and made a low whistling sound.

(When the Montessori director told us one class would be doing a unit on nocturnal animals, I asked Wombat if he knew what "nocturnal" meant. "Um, actually no," he said. I explained, "It means you sleep all day and then wake up and run around at night. Nocturnal." "Yeah!" his lightbulb went ping! "Like a kinkajou! Kinkajous play at night and then sleep when it's daytime. Yeah." And they say t.v. will rot your mind. Ha!)

But what kind of preschool do you send that kid to? Any preschool, I try to convince myself. Any school where he will be safe and happy and loved and exposed to exciting things, whether that's natural wooden blocks all in a row or giant plastic climbing structures on a muddy playground.

What he doesn't get at school, I hope we can give him at home, and vice versa. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that means they'll make his lunch; cooking is haaaard.) We're only choosing a school for a few years, not choosing a new set of parents. School is important, but it's not The Most Important. The world is his classroom, yadda yadda hippycakes, someone please tell me it's going to be fine, because it's going to be fine, right?

p.s. Simon no longer has a job (good riddance, ya bastards), which makes this process even more...special. (OH GOD VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER.)

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