Toddler started preschool on August 1st. Though it wasn’t time yet for me to return to work, I wanted to make sure she got a few days with me nearby just in case. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since she would be napping without me away from home, which was something she’d never done before. Suppose she started to panic and freaked out when it was time to sleep? Suffice it to say that I was anxious.
The only other time she’s been in the care of someone other than her parents or grandparents was briefly about a year ago. Last summer when I was about 5 months pregnant with her siblings, we tried sending her to a daycare/preschool. The thinking then was that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her at home along with infant twins, so she would need to go somewhere else. In case I was to choose to be a permanent SAHM after the twins were born, I wanted to free up my mom to go back to a full time job. We also thought maybe it would be beneficial for her to interact with some other kids. So I decided to try it out for only 3 hours in the mornings. I would get up with her to get her ready, Daddy would drop her off on his way to work at about 7:30am, while I went back to sleep for an hour or two (I was so exhausted all the time), then maybe run some errands before picking her back up at 10:30 to come home and nap at 11.
We only lasted two weeks on this arrangement. The teachers were very loving, everyone spoke Mandarin, all the kids were super well behaved there… but ultimately we still felt our daughter was too young to be without us. My mom agreed, so we brought her back and she’s been home for another year (back with my mom for the 6 weeks of school I taught last year). I didn’t plan for it to be so long, but it turned out that Husband stayed home for 3.5 months after the twins were born (long paternity leave, then a job change) and was a great help. And though twin babies plus Toddler is definitely no joke, with not a whole lot of income or any extra time, I just didn’t get around to figuring out this school thing. But it was great. I got to experience all of Toddler’s age two: I was able to take her to Mommy-and-Me and swim lessons, I got to watch her become her own little person, and I was present to shape a time that I feel is very critical developmentally. I’m so glad that is how things worked out.
But now she’s three, I’m going back to work, and this summer keeping her home was feeling like I was holding her back. She’s ready, has been ready actually for quite a while now, for the more structured environment of school with peers. I was still a little reluctant, because I knew that she would be picking up coughs and runny noses from school, which she would then bring home and give to her baby brother and sister, and of course I would miss her terribly. Even worse, I would no longer have complete control over what she did every minute of every day. But I definitely couldn’t give all three kids to an aging grandmother, much as I wanted to. And mostly, she was ready.
So, I researched and visited many preschools. In fact, I visited her preschool no less than 5 times, at various times of day, and spoke with all of the caregivers. I took her along with me most of those times, so she became pretty familiar with the teachers and layout of the school. Actually, the last couple of times she was reluctant to leave, because she wanted to stay and play.
My biggest concern was the napping. I thought maybe I would ease her into being able to sleep there without me by sending her only half day for a week, staying with her for the first few mornings, and then transition her to full day. I figured since she’s so independent, once she was comfortable and trusted her teachers she would shoo me away. I had a couple of weeks before school started, and I didn’t think it would take that long. But the director of the preschool cautioned me against that plan, and all the teachers advised me against it as well. Apparently kids are much more adaptable than adults, and it is better to just let them figure it out on their own. I didn’t want to unnecessarily prolong her adjustment, so I agreed to full day from the start.
I was careful not to let my anxiety show of course. To her I always discussed the whole school thing with lots of excitement, making a big deal about how she’s such a big girl, and that all her friends from Mommy-and-Me are also going to start going to big kids’ schools. I told her that sleeping at school will be so fun, and she’ll have a little cot just like camping. And she would get to run around, and there would be snacks, and she would make new friends, and when she was tired from playing Mama would come and pick her up. I wasn’t so sure about all of this myself, but I guess I was a pretty good actress because she didn’t show any sign of apprehension.
The first day, I waited until 9:30 to drop her off because I still felt a true full day was a little too harsh. She was excited in the car on the way there, chattering about this and that. We had her blanket and a sheet for her cot, a cup with her name on it, and a change of clothing in a bag. It was pretty bulky, but she carried it out of the car on her shoulder like a big girl. Then she ran ahead of me toward the gate of the school. I followed behind, but before we even got there she turned around and sternly said to me, “Bye Mama! I don’t want you come in.”
Wha??? I really thought she must have meant something else at first, but indeed she wanted me to leave. I told her I had to walk her in so I could sign in and say hi to her teacher, which she then let me do. Upon entering she immediately ran to pick a cubby for herself, placed her bag in it, and then she was off to play. I was barely able to get her back for a hug and kiss before I left. I drove all the way home shaking my head in disbelief, and I still can’t believe that happened.
Since then all mornings are Huggy-huggy-kissy-kissy-loveyou-bye! There were a few days when she was confused why she was going to school every day instead of twice a week like Mommy-and-Me, and a couple of mornings she asked to go with DiDi MeiMei to Grandma’s, kind of teary-eyed. But really she’s done incredibly well. My own transition back to work is still ongoing, but hers has surpassed all my hopes. No behavioral incidents, eating great, fully independent in the potty, and happy all day long. At 4pm I pick her up every day, and she gives me the wildest greetings, yelling Mommy! and taking a running leap to jump into my arms. We recount what Mandarin lesson she’s learned that day on the drive home.
Despite all my earlier trepidation, this was the right move for us.