Why One Mom is Opting Out of Preschool Panic
Well, the New York Times has done it again. In the Motherlode blog, we get this recent dispatch about an affluent New York City couple in the throes of applying to prestigious and highly competitive pre-K programs in Manhattan. They’re very, very stressed about it and so are their friends.
“The seeds of panic had been planted when Zee was 6 months old,” explains writer Judy Batalion. “A friend was genuinely concerned: ‘You haven’t signed her up for preschool prep at Gymboree?’ Another friend warned: ‘If you do, hire a consultant who can help your daughter act as if she didn’t take the class to hide it from the admissions officers.’ (What?!) And another: ‘You need to start giving these schools charity. That’s how you get in, if you’re not racially interesting.’ (White Jews—like us—being the definition of uninteresting.)”
If you’re rolling your eyes and frantically typing #firstworldproblem right now, you’re not alone. “Schmoozing”, as Batalion mentions elsewhere in the article, is not something I’m interested in doing for my child. Don’t get me wrong, I have three kids and I’m their biggest champion and cheerleader. But I’m not their agent, I’m their mom. I’ll not be negotiating on their behalf, especially for something as straightforward as preschool.
Certainly not the way she describes here: “Holding an 13-page form from the pile on our dining room table, I called out across our apartment, trying to get my husband’s attention. This preschool application asked for not only an essay about my 23-month-old daughter, but also a reference letter, both mine and my husband’s credentials, and whether we were trustees at any major institutions.”
I lived in Manhattan for many years and moved away before having kids in part to get away from the “more, more, more” mindset. After living overseas for the last few years, where the kids were born, we settled back in the U.S. in a small town outside of Chapel Hill, NC. It’s beautiful, full of professionals from all over the world… and the preschools options are plentiful.
I’m guessing that most of you live in areas more like mine than hers, if not geographically, philosophically. In fact, this post seems outdated to me. I thought stressing about fancy preschools was just something people joked about, a farcical storyline for funny movies (Remember “Little Fockers”, the third installment of “Meet the Parents” when Ben Stiller’s kids were vying for space in a fancy preschool—and how crazed the whole crew got trying to get them in?). Are parents truly concerned that the right blend of preschool prep plus subsequent private schools are the magic ticket to shoot their kids to the level of success they envision for them?
What about life skills, personality, and family? Our pastor recently mentioned something that’s been stuck in my head for a while now. He said kids today are experience rich and relationship poor. The focus is on classes, teams and camps that we’re all banking on molding our kids into their very best. But all that running around, driving in the car, and harried dinners on the go, is that really “best”?
Our approach is pretty different. We have three small kids and one more on the way; when our baby is born this spring we’ll have four kids who are five years old and younger. It’s noisy, but it’s also pretty amazing. This little tribe is learning how to get along, how to teach each other new songs, how to share sandbox shovels, how to pick up your brother when he falls, how to help your sister put on tights, how to take turns deciding who will be Emily Elizabeth and who’s Clifford today.
They all have half-day Montessori preschool classes, allowing me time to work (and shower), but otherwise, this crew is together for the rest of the day. We don’t do extra dance classes, singing lessons or sports teams so far, and that’s by design. These guys need time to play, to be silly, to run around and to dress up (or down) as they want. For their ages, we ask a lot of them at times—to use table manners, to say grace, to clean up the toys before starting something new, to smear the toothpaste on those brushes themselves, and so on—so I want a big part of their day to be free. To twirl, to throw balls, to ride tiny bikes with training wheels. Besides there’s also something very sweet going on: They almost always choose to do whatever it is together.
For my money, this time, this experience learning how to be themselves and how to love each other, even when your brother starts throwing blocks, even when your sister won’t share her new baby doll (the one who wets her diaper), even when Mom hits her limit, this is the best pre-K program in the world.
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