What I Learned At Preschool
Two very old friends found me on Facebook this week. Back when our now college-age daughters were in the sandbox, we hung out together. Our daughters went to the same co-op preschool, had after school play dates and celebrated each other's birthdays. The girls played dress up, had meltdowns and battled "those dumb boys" together. I unfortunely moved away and we slipped apart.
I've often thought about them and the way we bonded over urgent matters, like leaving our toddlers at preschool the first time and whether serving graham crackers at snack time was caving in to processed foods or whether it was just a way to tide them over. We banded together to decide what to teach our girls about dealing with a few over-aggressive toddler boys (who were absolutely adorable unless you were the focus of their imaginary take-no-prisoners battles; which our girls were). These issues were really important to us. We all wanted to do the best we could but everything was so new. We had each other to bounce off ideas. Our different styles helped all of us see how different approaches could work.
I was a preschool dawdler. My daughter, Lauren, didn't want to be left with "some other mommy" (her name for the preschool teachers—lovely women she grew to adore). I couldn't bear to break her heart. The teachers were so patient with me; bless their hearts. I was not the first mother with separation anxiety and I can't express how grateful I was that they didn't force the issue. It got to be a little ridiculous and dragged out the inevitable. One of my friends suggested I try leaving Lauren at preschool with one of the dads she knew well. It was a co-op which meant different parents assisted teachers on different days.
When the dreaded day arrived, Lauren and I talked about how today Mommy was going to kiss her goodbye at preschool and go to work. Jose was going to look after her until she felt like playing. Actually, I was going home to sleep since I'd just come off a long night shift at the hospital. It was, no doubt, my extended sleep deprivation that truly motivated me to get her comfortable with preschool. We walked down the steps to the playground, found Jose and let the games begin. Jose had a plan: first he made silly faces at her, then he'd push her and his daughter on the swing set. Once he had her totally distracted with under-doggies (that's when you push the swing high enough that the pusher can duck under the seat and the swinger can squeal with delight), I'd blow her a kiss and say goodbye. It worked like a dream. This was in the days before cell phones but as soon as I got home from dropping her off, I called the preschool and found out Lauren never cried or asked for me. I dropped off to sleep for a few blessed hours knowing my daughter was happy with friends.
Here's what I learned from those early sandbox days: That my friends were there to back me up and my daughter would be fine in the world without me. Lauren learned there were a team of other mommies and daddies looking out for her and that she could handle preschool without me. That same girl is now a college-senior who spent a semester on her own in Prague. She's traveled all over Europe, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. She's at home in the world, even if I still have a little separation anxiety. Hey, see how comfortable you'll feel when your now newborn is ready to hop a train to Hungary alone.
When my friends looked me up on Facebook, one remembered how Lauren freaked out at a birthday party when the kids started bashing a Mickey Mouse piñata. She also remembered that it confused her when the moon wasn't in the sky. Another friend remembered how I'd recommend frozen waffles as a perfect morning-sickness food. I'd forgotten these stories, but when my friends refreshed my memory, it all came flooding back.
It’s amazing how much of our memories our friends save for us. The pieces we've dropped along the way are picked up by others and held until we need them again. It's wonderful how quickly we become a tribe, holding each other up through this big adventure called parenthood. Those of you who haven't had your babies yet can't imagine how important your yet-to-be best friends will be to you. Just wait, the best are yet to come.
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