Preschool is a long-standing tradition in this house.
I remember clearly the day Jacob started his first day at a wonderful Montessori preschool. As my first, I couldn’t wait to get him out in the world so that everyone else could see how amazing he was. I will never forget how proud I felt watching him hang up his little coat, how optimistic I was about the wonderful things he would do and learn there.
And he did.
With subsequent kids, preschool became as much about the break for me as the experience for them. I had a constant parade of babies and toddlers in the house for over a decade, and I looked forward to those two-and-a-half hours three times a week as a welcome opportunity to shop with just one kid in tow, or take a nap with the baby.
All four of my boys went to preschool for at least one year, some two. So when Owen graduated from his preschool class two years ago, I assumed I’d be back with Clara.
But things changed along the way, and my desire to enroll her faded, too. Why? Well, here are some reasons:
- The convenience factor. For working moms, a typical preschool schedule pretty much stinks. Sure, we’ll take it if it’s all we’ve got, but when you consider driving, drop-off and pick up time, it really equals out to no more than two hours of freedom at best, plus all the hassle of leaving the house, dealing with pickup/drop-off, having to put on a bra and shoes…
- I want more time. With the other kids, I always looked forward to preschool as a chance to spend some quiet time with the baby of the family. But Clara IS the baby, and in just a year she’ll be enrolled in full-day kindergarten. The idea of spending our last year together in a quiet house where I don’t have to drag her out of bed at any specific time in the morning, rush her through breakfast or pack her up into a freezing-cold car at 8 AM really appealed to me.
- She doesn’t need it. I think preschool can be a wonderful thing for kids, but I look at my daughter who’s had a variety of siblings, cousins and friends’ kids as playmates since she was born, who learned to talk early from listening to a large and verbal family natter away, and who amuses herself all day long with imaginative play, and I know she’ll be just fine without it.
As with any parenting decision, the choices we make about preschool are a mishmash of our current circumstance and the child in question. We can choose something enthusiastically for one child and pass it up for another. For us, preschool is a wonderful thing that just didn’t mesh with the place we’re in right now.
So since we’re not doing preschool, what are we doing instead? Here’s a look at how spending every day with a preschool-aged girl is going:
1. I work in the morning. I’m incredibly lucky that Clara is happy to sleep in, and I’m taking advantage of it. Most mornings she doesn’t get up until around 9:30 or sometimes even 10 AM. Since the boys leave a little before 8, that gives me a solid hour and a half to two hours to work in the morning before I even get her breakfast…and I am able to squeeze in work in several other pockets of time during the day. (I posted more details about my day-to-day work schedule last week.)
2. We go out. My health club has a very nice daycare room, and Clara spends a couple of hours there a few days a week. She gets to play with other kids and novel toys while I work out and shower, and there’s a nice cafe area where I can check in with work again before I pick her up and head out.
We run errands together, of course, and I’m planning an every-other-week library trip staggered with trips to the children’s museum in town. We also have get-togethers planned with similar-aged friends at our house or their houses. (In my world, “playdates” do not involve parents – they’re for the kids, and provide an opportunity for both moms to do their own thing!)
3. She draws, paints, and plays. One thing that’s different about having my daughter home with me all day than it was with the boys is that I understand her play. Whether it’s a gender thing or a personality thing I don’t know, but the way Clara plays reminds me exactly of myself as a little girl.
She surrounds herself with stuffed animals and dolls and talks quietly to them, makes up imaginary worlds, sings to herself, paints page after page of smiling people and hearts…and I love watching her.
At the same time, the fact that she mostly plays independently and quietly makes it easy for the two of us to co-exist together. While I’ll offer a suggestion now and then, read a book or get her some fresh water for her paints, she mostly directs her own activities, which means I can still get adult things done. And she doesn’t really yell or bounce of the walls like the boys did (and still do). Ahh…peace.
I will admit that sometimes Clara talks my ear off, and that can get a little annoying at times, but I find that when I put down what I’m doing and take a few minutes to really listen and engage with her, she’s only too happy to go back to her animals and I can go back to my work.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this sunroom in our new house, but it occurred to me that it would make a perfect craft and “school” area for Clara.
It’s adjacent to the kitchen, dining room, and my office space, and I float between those three rooms all day so it’s really convenient. I lined the shelf that runs along the window with baskets full of books, art supplies, and playdough, and she brings in toys and spends the whole day basking in the sun like a little cat.
I am thinking of adding a turntable in there so she can pick out her own music and books-on-record (remember those from your own childhood?)
(Oh, and there’s also a kitchen cart in there with mugs, tea and coffee, and our Keurig, so the room doubles as a nice sunny place to grab a warm beverage.)
I know anything can change, and who knows…by December I might be pulling my hair out and ready to enroll Clara in preschool for the second semester. But so far, so good.
For most of the last fifteen-plus years, I’ve been home with small children underfoot all day. And I’m mostly glad to be moving on to a new stage of life soon.
But I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend one last year quietly at home with my girl. It’s a chance I won’t get again, and now that I don’t have a new baby bringing up the rear, I finally have the opportunity to really appreciate it. I’m trying to soak up what little time I have left alone with my littlest child.
I guess this decision was a good example of about making the choices that are right for us. Not for somebody else’s family, or a theoretical situation; but our REAL family, RIGHT now.