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Having researched almost 20 preschools, interviewed several seasoned nannies, and passed many mornings watching other people’s toddlers fingerpaint, I’m prepared to share my conclusive findings. Ready? Okay!
Here’s what you want at the beginning of a day: a kid who looks forward to his day. Here’s what you want at the end of the day: A kid who is able to enjoy dinner, bath and the little bit of time you have with him or her.
So, um, just one question: How do you get there? (Really, I’m asking, how do YOU get there?). And in between, what exactly did the kid do all day? Did he mill around a padded room with a tv? Did he follow instructions and sit with his hands in his lap? Did he play, fight, make big messes, get yelled at a few times? Did he get carted around from playdates to playgrounds to toddler cultural events? Did he mostly stay home with one outing to the supermarket? Did his day revolve around him? His school group? His caregiver?
Time is ticking. I go back to do a full-time cookbook project in March, so there’s no time to procrastinate. Should we hire a nanny we can’t really afford? If we do, will I be able to tell her how I expect her to take care of my child? Will I have confidence that she’s actually doing what I think she is? Will we use a nanny cam? Or will we throw Leo into a brand new group care setting for long full-time days without much transition time? If so, will we find a more expensive daycare in a fancier neighborhood, a daycare in our less-fancy neighborhood, or the hectic, decidedly non-fancy preschool around the corner from us?
I mentioned this at playgroup and my best friend, whose kid has been in daycare since she was tiny, said, “so, you’re facing reality.” I guess so. Another friend’s advice: “the best preschool is the one closest to your house.” I’ve really come around to that view. Who wants to spend big chunks of their weekday time with their kids just commuting from childcare if they don’t have to?
Plus, the preschool closest to our house is also the one geared towards this community—it’s affordable, has long hours, is flexible about shifting schedules, and is the only preschool I’ve found that has openings right now. What it’s not is anything like Leo’s life thus far.
Can I put my kid in a crowded, chaotic room full of older two-year-olds? A room with no natural daylight, for a day with little to no outside time during the colder months? Can I send him to a school-food only program where breakfast is sometimes a donut and lunch is sometimes a cheeseburger, and not one food on the daily menu is something I would buy regularly for my family?
On the one hand, when I remind myself how adaptable, social and generally game Leo is, I feel hopeful. Maybe I’m worrying unnecessarily and should just sign him up for school. Then I think: but Leo pees in his potty right now, and being in preschool will completely derail this. Then I think: while the transition will be rough, chances are he’ll be a better napper at school than he is at home. Then I think: what if he picks up even more aggressive behavior than he’s already developed? Then I think: how long-lasting could even the wrong choice of preschool be? Maybe we’ll change schools for the fall. Then I wonder how many sick days I’ll have to take if I throw him into this huge new germ pool right before starting work. Then I think: aren’t we both sick all the time now too?
In fact, as I write, we have a stomach virus. So here’s the plan: sip homemade gingerale tonight, talk everything over (and over) with Aaron when he comes back from his business trip tomorrow, then try to see beyond the exhaustion and confusion of the present to make some decisions about Leo’s fast-arriving future by the end of the week. In the meantime, I’m open to advice and suggestions. Wide open.