Preschool Is The New School
I had a wonderful morning at the park a couple of days ago. I met my close friend and her nearly three-year old son in West Berkeley, near the bay. It was a cloudy morning, and we got there early, so we had the park nearly to ourselves at first.
As the special guest, I followed my little buddy all through the routes of the play structures; tried out all the slides. He gave me the grand tour. On the swing set, mama would push from behind, and I would stand in front, gently pushing his knees back at the moment that he swung all the way forward. He grinned and laughed, loving our attention.
But he was excited when another three-year old girl arrived at the park. The little girl was shy when he tried to initiate play by chasing her. After eyeing each other, and sizing each other up for a few more minutes, there were more successful negotiations of personal space.
And then they were off! Running elated laps around the play structure: up the stairs, around the tire, down the bumpy slide, do it again.
Meanwhile, the mother of the little girl and my friend and I exchanged smiles, and a few brief words. But as it often happens, my friend and I were years younger than the other moms at the park… And besides, we were excited to catch up with each other!
Following uncountable rounds down the slide, the kids ran out of steam and decided to take it down a notch on the tire-swing. The kids both insisted their mothers stand near, so we began to chat with the other mom.
After establishing how old each kid was, the other mom asked something that surprised me, in my naiveté:
“Where does he go to school?“ and,
“How many days a week does he go?“
School? He’s not quite three years old yet! I mean, he does go to Preschool, but is the shorthand for preschool just school now? I don’t mean to dwell in semantics, but it surprised me.
The two moms discussed time management. My friend and her husband both work full-time, so they have one day off a week together as a family, and both she and her husband each have one solo day a week with their son; he’s in preschool three days a week, and he’s with his grandparents on Sundays.
The other mom at the park had a little 7-week-old strapped to her chest, she told us she had opted for three days of preschool a week for the older daughter since the baby came.
Okay, the point of all this is that I’ve been surprised this year, spending time with this particular friend, just how immediately one has to figure out the school thing. The school thing starts right out the gate, really. It starts with Preschool. And if you opt out of it, you’ll be chatting with some mom at the tire-swing at the park, explaining that.
The point is, I’m surprised by my sense of preemptive otherness. Before even being a mom. I stood there, moving wood chips into a little pile with my sneaker, feeling like a damn homeschooler.
The bad thing about this blog project is that it’s made me want to figure it all out. Make a plan, and a plan B and C. Think through all the scenarios!
There were so many times in my childhood when being homeschooled felt defining, like something I had to, at worst, defend, but at least explain. And then, that didn’t matter any more, and it hasn’t for years! And now, nearing the chapter of parenthood… I’m worrying about those conversations again. And you don’t even get the first five years to prepare, you get like, one and a half! Tops.