I have been trying my best not to think about it, but it’s coming, and I know I’ll have to face it soon. The last day of school is around the corner and I’m already grieving its loss. No, this isn’t my first rodeo. I have three kids and we’ve been doing the school thing for a while. But this year is especially hard because it’s the last time I’ll have a kid in preschool. Frankly, I’m a wreck thinking about the end of the preschool era.
How it Started
When my first child was little, I fully intended to homeschool her. My idea grew out of an “informed” decision that was made before ever becoming a mother (insert eye roll here). However, as I seemed to spend day and night with her glued to my side, I knew something had to give. I was frazzled and frayed and badly needed a break. It was this sense of desperation that gave way to an important discovery – preschool is a thing. And it’s awesome!
Preschool is the New Starbucks
Before I started looking, I never really noticed them. But once the search began, it started to feel like they were everywhere – a bright shining beacon of rest for a weary stay-at-home mom like me. I was so grateful for their presence. I was also cautious about choosing the right fit. But, once I landed on the one, I found it to be an otherworldly place.
Colorful walls were lined in handprints and smiles. Sensory stations lounged near cubbies and cushy nap mats. There were also the requisite juice boxes, and sandpits, and a bevy of teachers standing by with hugs. And the smell – oh, it had the most wonderful, dream-like smell of crayons and lamination! Simply magical.
First Try, Cry, Then Comply
None of this mattered to my daughter, though. On the first day she attended, it was all tears. Big tears – the kind that make you feel guilty, as a mother, for their cascading presence. She screamed and wailed like I was sending her off to a war instead of the unicorn-inhabited dreamland I saw in front of me. I felt terrible. Had I made a mistake? Was she ready?
I questioned everything and came home a blubbering mess, knowing I had almost certainly broken my child’s happiness quotient. Forever. But when I came to pick her up, the teacher reported that her waterworks had disappeared almost the second I left. She had a fun day after all and my worrying was in vain. This was wonderful news since, in between my own angst, I managed to get a few things done, too. All in all, preschool turned out to be successful – for both of us!
Second Verse, Better Than the First
With my second child, things were easier from the start. Our preschool of choice stayed the same, but his outlook was already different. I don’t know if he sensed the fact that his attendance was a foregone conclusion, or if his relaxed personality dictated a natural sense of calm, but his first day was different from my daughter’s. There were no tears. No trouble. He just marched right in and enjoyed the day. Easy-peasy.
Third Time’s Not A Charm
My third child – as parents of multiples can attest – was a different person entirely. She was not clingy like her sister or easygoing like her brother. She entered preschool uncertain and unimpressed. Even at the age of four, she had always been the strongest-willed and least receptive to change in our family. It didn’t do her any favors that roughly half of her life had been spent in Covid quarantine, tucked away from the entire world.
Not receiving the same benefits of human interaction or childhood experiences as the other two, she came to view all things outside the home with apprehension and disapproval. As a result, when she started full-time preschool this year (unlike the part-time, half-year of preschool we attempted last year), it was a real struggle. It didn’t take her a matter of minutes for the teachers to win her over. It took months. And she didn’t come home talking about all the fun things she had done at school. She came home, instead, talking about what she hated. Hated. My heart sank.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I wasn’t sure if her feelings would pass; she seemed so consistent in her dislike. Every morning was a battle of wills to get her through those doors. Dressing her was akin to clothing a sack of potatoes. Strapping her into the car seat was worse than bathing a cat. And, once we reached the school’s entrance, she would dig her feet into the ground, firm as concrete, in a stance of utter defiance. She. Did. Not. Want. To. Go. I mustered every ounce of strength in my body just to will her past the threshold each day. It was tiresome! I didn’t know if the pandemic had wired her to be this antisocial and obstinate, or if it was just who she was, but I was scared she would lose out on the benefits of this magical time.
But here’s the thing about preschool: the people who work there are magicians. Truly. I don’t know how they do it! On days when I have trouble getting one child to take a nap, they somehow manage to make naps happen for an entire classroom. And when I get tired after coming up with one fun activity, they tirelessly whip up multiple. That’s why I now realize I should have known better than to count them out. After all, if any place could turn around my child’s disdain and awkwardness following lockdown, it would be preschool.
Patience (and Glitter) Changes Everything
As it turns out, my little one slowly evolved from a naysayer to a yaysayer, and now preschool is her favorite place in the world! When she wakes up in the morning, the first thing she asks is, “Am I going to school today?” On weekends, I have to be sure to let her down gently.
She has learned simple addition and the foundations of reading and can phonics the heck out of a story. She also knows all the songs she’s been taught and has no problem taking an occasional nap with the other kids. Paint, glitter, pattycakes – she has come to love it all!
It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye
So now, just as she’s in full stride, it’s almost over and we’re at the end of the preschool era. (Enter the heartbreak!) All endings are bittersweet, and the end of the preschool era is entirely so. Yes, it’s going to be so hard to say goodbye to this time. Harder still to say goodbye to these amazing teachers. But I’m trying to remind myself of the worthy old adage – “as one door closes, another one opens.”
Endings are hard no matter what they are. But the magic doesn’t have to stop at the end of the preschool era. Just like the glitter in her pictures or the sand in her tiny shoes, it will stick around far longer than we imagine and resurface when we least expect it. After all, preschool is more than a place – it’s a spirit of joy that lives on beyond its time, never to be forgotten by those who walk its hallowed (and crayon-lined) halls. And, without a doubt, we will never, ever forget the warm hugs from the bevy of teachers – those wonderful magicians – who stood strong and got us to this point!