by Joy Thomas
The smell of freshly sharpened pencils is in the air, marking the beginning of a new school year. Besides all the back-to-school ads telling me school days are returning, I haven't really paid much attention to the start of school the past couple years. After all, I am not currently teaching; I am no longer a student; and I have had no children in school. That all changed this year, however, when my daughter, Lucy ("Hello Kitty" from last week's blog!), started school-- okay, preschool, but still a really big deal in my mind. I guess I didn't really realize how big of a deal preschool would be until I went to preschool orientation. I figured this "meet and greet" would be pretty simple... meet the teacher, look at the fun preschool toys, check out the other kids to make sure they'll be suitable playmates, and we'll be out of there in a matter of minutes, right? Not so much.
First, there were the rules.... 10 detailed rules that we were to go over with our child the night before school started (truly, it felt cruel replacing Lucy's bedtime story with "School Rules 101", but I'm a responsible parent, so I did it.... okay, according to my husband I OVERdid it by having her repeat each rule after me). Then there was the snack list-- all 3 approved items. We're talking no dairy, no nuts, no foods manufactured in the same building as nuts, etc., etc. There was a list of approved brands of 42 oz. juices, which we are to bring with 5 oz. paper cups, small white paper plates, and napkins. Everything must be sealed in its original package, which means absolutely no homemade snacks. Since Lucy has a very small class, our snack dates (laid out nicely on a snack calendar that I will no doubt lose repeatedly before remembering to photocopy), occur quite frequently, which means we're hauling plates, cups, napkins, juice, and snacks to school about 4 times a month. After recovering from snack shock (all, of course, while smiling and nodding at the teacher and other parents... "yeah, snack time-- fun!"), there came the calendar of dates we are to bring alphabet objects of the week, then the list of dates we are bringing "teddy" home for the weekend (and "teddy's" blanket and accessories, which we will most definitely lose and have to replace at least one of the weekends), and finally the list of all the special dates to remember (i.e. Halloween parade, Thanksgiving Feast, etc.) Beyond all the calendars, there was a survey to fill out about your child's interests and ways you as a parent can volunteer in the classroom (does bringing your assigned snack count as volunteering?) There was also a list of curriculum objectives and goals, which I found interesting because I thought the whole idea of preschool was to play and socialize.
I realize I may be coming across a bit cynical and negative, and the truth is that it's a fantastic preschool that is extremely kid-foucsed; I just had no idea it would also be like another part-time job for the parent. Silly me, thinking I'd get a 2 and a half hour break while my daughter is at preschool!
After reading through the extensive folder of info at orientation, I had one real decision to make: what was Lucy going to wear on the first day of school? I knew if I asked her, she'd definitely want to wear her long, white satin princess gown, so I opted to give her two choices instead: a jean skirt with a pink ruffled top or a jean jumper with a pink collared shirt. She chose the latter, so then came the question of shoes. Per school rules, no open-toed shoes nor dressy shoes, yet it was in the 80s and sunny, so I didn't want her to be hot. I finally settled on her brown saddle shoes and little white ruffled socks. Her teacher had said she likes them to wear gym shoes and play clothes, but I figured I could get away with this outfit on the first day anyhow.
When the first day of school arrived, we met my youngest sister, Lucy's aunt Jilly, for lunch beforehand. I made the mistake of ordering Lucy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so by the end of the meal there were smudges of jelly on her collar. I thought I had packed a back-up outfit, but no such luck, so I wiped away what I could and sent her on her way. Looking at the pictures, I'm glad that the jelly doesn't show, as I can just imagine Lucy looking back at the pictures someday as a teenager, saying "I can't believe you sent me to my first day of school with jelly all over me!" Although she's opinionated enough about clothes these days that she's more likely to complain about the outfit I dressed her in (already, she is making fun of my wedding photos from 10 years ago-- "mommy, I don't like you when you got married." um, thanks... is it my veil?)
For as much preparation as I had as a parent for the first day of school, I wasn't really prepared to say good-bye. Lucy marched right in, kissed me good-bye, and began coloring at a nearby table, unaware of her mother standing in the hallway, staring at her, wondering what happened to that little 4-month-old I remember rocking not too long ago. I had anticipated that she might want me to stay in the room with her and maybe even cry a little, so I was relieved that she wasn't even close to tears. Little did I know that I was the one close to a meltdown. As I walked out the doors of the school, my pregnancy hormones must have triggered or something because I found myself wiping large crocodile tears off my face as I walked. I ran into a friend who saw me crying and hugged me. I felt like a fool; my daughter was going to PRESCHOOL for 2 and a half hours... shorter even than most times I get a babysitter. Yet this was somehow different. The backpack and all the stupid rules turned it into some kind of milestone. Now that it's crossed, I shouldn't have to worry about sobbing in public for at least another 2 years when she goes to kindergarten!