Tea and Tissues

Happy preschoolers (www.k-12news.com).

Are these preschoolers’ parents equally ecstatic? (www.k-12news.com).

My world is about to be rocked, and the funny thing is, I didn’t even see it coming. I knew things would change when Lila started preschool this fall, but I’m only just starting to realize how much.

One recent evening, I found myself sitting in the tastefully decorated living room of two current preschool parents. We were there to meet-and-greet the preschool director and other incoming preschoolers’ parents.

As I listened to the preschool director describe what to expect this fall, I realized that this gathering was less about preparing our kids and more about allaying our own concerns. They could see our impending fears whether or not we could. The director warned us that separation is typically harder for parents than for preschoolers.

After we bring our kids to class on the first day, the PTA will staff “Tea and Tissues” upstairs for parents, where we can eat, cry, and ask those PTA members to sneak downstairs and check how our kids are doing. I worried I might be one of those crying parents.

For the past two years, I have organized my waking hours around Lila. We’ve never really had a regular child care arrangement. We’ve patched together babysitting help when I’ve needed it, but for the most part, it’s been me. I don’t write or exercise unless Lila’s asleep or we have the occasional babysitter, and that has mostly worked for us.

We have had some fantastic babysitters, but they were generally between things. We lost one to nursing school, another to wedding cake baking, and a third to a job at Anthropologie. My husband’s job also allows us to use a daycare center, which Lila loves, but such back-up care is limited to 20 days annually.

Last winter, during one of our in-between-babysitters periods, I realized it might be easier to find reliable, quality care if we could arrange two standing days each week at a day care center. I began touring centers and realized there was an extensive application process and lengthy waiting lists, even for toddlers; this was not the simple or speedy process I’d envisioned. Even though it was late 2012, the earliest availability anywhere was September 2013. So, I began researching preschools too, realizing that Lila would be old enough for a school setting by then.

It wasn’t easy. I’ll never forget touring one highly regarded day care center. The sounds of children screaming and crying punctuated the entire tour. The crying started in the infant rooms and continued throughout; I was horrified that my tour guide ignored it and that no adults responded. I did not want that for my daughter. If I was going to allow strangers to regularly watch Lila, I wanted her to be happy, but at a bare minimum, I wanted caregivers who would respond if she were in distress.

We still think of Lila as our baby. When I tweet about Lila’s delightful antics, I regularly refer to her as Baby Girl, because that’s who she (still) is to me, and I feel protective. But if there’s anything that can remind you your child is no longer a baby, it’s her starting school, where she’ll spend several hours a week learning new things and being influenced by new people who don’t share a connection on the family tree.

Lila is incredibly independent. She is always delighted to meet new people, especially new children, so I’m confident she’ll wake up excited each day to see her “new friends” at the incredibly nurturing preschool we’ve chosen.

When I recently dropped Lila at back-up care, she was thrilled to see three other children in the baby/toddler room and ran straight over to introduce herself. After completing some paperwork, I called out to let Lila know I was leaving, but she was so engrossed with her playmates, she didn’t even turn around until the center director called her name. Lila then offered me a perfunctory glance goodbye.

It’s absolutely preferable to have a child who’s comfortable and enjoys playing with peers in the company of other (safe) adults. However, it’s also nice to be remembered. I think about Lila frequently throughout the day, even when we’re apart. So it’s humbling, and a little sad, to realize that even if she’s the center of my world, soon I won’t be the center of hers.

This article appeared in Altcatholicah.

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