Four years ago I brought my daughter to the child care program at the YMCA. I was an emotional mess. She was . . . interested in a pile of mega blocks. Somehow we made it through the first day, then the first week, and then, somehow, years went by. Today, my little “baby” donned a pint-sized cap and gown, received a diploma, and emerged a full-fledged kindergartner. And, just like that, an entire wonderful, surreal, joyful part of her childhood journey came to an end.
Except, of course, that it wasn’t just her journey, and it wasn’t “just like that.” We’ve been traveling down this path together, as a family, for years. We even added a fellow traveler along the way — a little brother to accompany my mad sprints from the preschool parking lot each morning I was late for drop off. To absorb the exuberant chaos of 18 preschoolers celebrating Mother’s Day with bagels and choreographed musical numbers. To race down the hall to her classroom when I was late for pick up. Together, we learned the ins and outs of early education, which turned out to be an education for us all.
And so, in honor of this momentous occasion, here is a list of The Top 5 Things I Learned from Preschool. Feel free to sharpen your colored pencils and take notes.
1. If you need an ego boost, walk into a preschool classroom. You’re not just Junior’s Mommy. You’re a celebrity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to hug my daughter goodbye, only to suddenly be surrounded by five-year-olds trying to join in the love fest. Or how often one of my daughter’s classmates would show me his art, eager for my approval. Or compliment the maternity dress I’m still trying to pass off as “loose-fitting” (over a year after my son’s birth) because I haven’t had time to go shopping. I’m considering hiring these kids to be my entourage. At least until I find a dress in my size.
2. “Washable” markers and paint are a cruel joke. As it turns out, they wash out of one thing only: old clothes you could care less about. You know, those size 4T jeans that fit your kid perfectly last fall, which you’re now passing off as “snug” or “trendy” until you find time to go to Target. One swipe with a damp paper towel, and they’re suddenly immaculate. That pink cashmere sweater from your child’s grandmother? It’s now permanently splattered in purple paint. The same goes for your kid’s skin. No matter how hard you scrub, that blood-red paint is never coming off your little Lady Macbeth’s hands. Fortunately, your kid probably won’t care . . . although you may get some strange looks from the other moms at the playground.
3. Preschool teachers must secretly be superheroes. Or deaf. I frequently joke that I don’t know how people have more than two kids, because the constant cries of “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” in constant stereo are really all I can handle. My daughter’s teachers are responsible for 18 kids — none of whom seem aware there’s anyone else in the room. Alice needs help using scissors. NOW. Bobby needs help opening the glue. NOW. Teacher needs some aspirin . . . every day, I imagine. I am constantly grateful for my daughter’s inspirational and patient teachers, who always save the day in small yet meaningful ways — without losing their sanity.
4. We adults take A LOT of things for granted. Until I started helping my daughter learn to read, I never realized how complicated learning English must be. Here is a typical conversation during “reading time”:
Me: Here are two O’s next to each other. They say “ooh.” Like “cool” or “fool.”
Daughter (reproachfully): “Fool” isn’t a nice word, Mommy. How about “school”?
Me (excessively proud of my teaching skills): Exactly!
Daughter: Or “rude” or “dude”!
Me: Um, well, not exactly. You see, sometimes a “u”…
Daughter: Or “new” or “view”!
It’s moments like these I want to skip English altogether, and start with a simpler language. Like hieroglyphics. Or Latin.
5. Even though I’m not present, I’m always there. Every day my daughter draws colorful, vibrant portraits…and nine out of ten times, the subjects are her and Mommy. She learns songs, and she can’t wait to sing them for Mommy. She makes up a story, and guess who our intrepid heroine is saving? — that’s right, her favorite damsel in distress, Mommy. All those fears I had when I first brought her to the Y — a tiny toddler my heart broke to leave — fears that she would forget all about me or our bond would be broken . . . none of them came true. Instead, even though our days took us in different directions, in the end, we always returned to each other, happy to share songs, stories, and even magic marker stains all over hands and clothing.
Perhaps this is the most important lesson for me to remember, as my daughter moves on to kindergarten. Yes, she may be moving further along her own journey, to places where Mommy can’t follow. But at the end of the day, I’ll be here to listen to her adventures, to applaud as she reads from her new favorite books, to dance with her around the living room to her new favorite songs. Because the one thing I’ve learned from these early school years is that, no matter how far baby wanders, Mommy will be always be “home.”