This is Lila’s last week at preschool, and no one is surprised that I need to write about my feelings.
The countdown started as a slow rumble months ago; quick conversations among parents about what schools we were touring, comments about how crazy it all felt, and eye rolling over how annoying it was going to be to have multiple drop offs.
But the reality of it didn’t sink in until graduation in May. All of a sudden we entered this maddening time warp where the days seemed to pass more quickly each week. I’m pretty sure five minutes ago I dropped a baby off in the infant room, and now we’re ordering what feels like a nonsensical amount of glue sticks and tissues for a school that’s totally foreign to us.
I can’t wait to see L start kindergarten and soar to new heights — she’s ready for this — but there’s a heavy cloud hanging over the next few days. It’s a mixed bag that’s going to hit me hard when we walk out those familiar doors together on Wednesday.
The way time passes after having children is truly baffling. Last week I attended Meet the Teacher night for Maya, and it just so happened that the 2’s room is now the same room Lila was in as a baby. I hadn’t entered that space in years, and it was a crazy feeling to literally come full circle.
That room is somewhat of a sacred space, because when you drop your baby off to day one at daycare, you’ve never been more vulnerable. Not just in the sense of leaving your little one somewhere new, but because it’s awkward and uncharted territory. I didn’t know where to leave bottles or how long to talk to the teachers, and I was intimidated by every other parent who seemed to have things more together than I did. I wasn’t yet comfortable with the working mom part of my identity and was very focused on trying not to trip in heels while carrying an infant carrier.
If you’d asked me at that very first drop-off what I hoped for from a childcare provider, I probably would have said something about nap schedules and diaper cream. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined what would really matter: the teachers who wore my daughter in a wrap all day because she was colicky. The framed art we’d display made from baby footprints. The email folder full of updates and photos. Over that first year, the classroom came to represent a place of growth and friendships.
After the baby room, we entered the walking toddler room, where all my worrying about napping on cots proved wildly unnecessary. Art projects became more involved and babies started morphing into tiny people who ate with forks and had water play days. Every day was a new adventure that helped toddlers explore and develop.
Then onto the 2’s room, where potty training was this big thing and the kiddos started having birthday parties, themed days and field trips. This helped our parent group come together as a unit, as we started to really understand the magic in the imaginative, child-focused curriculum we’d heard so much about. Our kids were kind of weird, yes, but in the best way.
This was also the room where most of us got pregnant with our second kids, so for the second half of the year the teachers faced regular intervals of displaced, hormonal mom crying. Were the parents higher maintenance than the kids? Very likely. Also, we lost and gained approximately 350 toddler socks this year, and became one with the Moana soundtrack.
Our 3’s room will always make me think about an epic field trip to the science center Pompeii exhibit with 25 kids who had zero problem discussing how bodies were buried and preserved in volcanic ash. They were obsessed with volcanos all freaking year. Also this year the kids really started to play together with intention and learned how to use tools and a sewing machine. The classroom was a perfect depiction of a three-year-old’s mind, where every inch contained something of great significance.
We started love rituals to make goodbyes easier, and saw our small children start to lose their baby chub. This was also the year the kids spent a great deal of time talking about habitats, which segued into raising money to help purchase tents for the homeless.
As we entered the official pre-k room, we saw a continuation of very special friendships. Our teachers have often remarked that the kiddos who were entering their fifth year together truly had a sibling-like relationship. They fight hard but they love even harder. They know each other so well and work through conflict more effectively than most adults I know. The social and emotional development this past year has given us a chance to see these kids grow into themselves and learn to communicate and regulate their feelings.
Daycare and preschool teachers are quick to correct anyone who says they are raising other peoples’ children, but the truth is, they are a huge piece of how we raise our children — one we choose and cherish. They are present for countless pivotal moments in our kids’ lives, and also in our lives as parents. They’re more valuable than any parenting book, well-intentioned relative or answer you can google, and I understand now why my mom still remembers the names of the preschool teachers I had 30+ years ago. I will forever view our teachers as an extension of our family.
Then there are the other families we’ve been so fortunate to have on this journey. Where can I begin? Milestone by milestone we’ve been blessed with extra sets of eyes, helping hands and huge hearts. Other moms and dads who don’t hesitate to love on your kids, text you to let you know what the kids were doing when they dropped off after you, and cover for you when you’re late or away.
Moms who are further down the parenting road and give the most reassuring advice, and who don’t bat an eye when you stroll out of school carrying a filthy child, soiled clothes bag, cereal box full of rocks and seven paper towel rolls. I always knew Lila would make friends at school; what I didn’t expect was for our entire family to create lasting and meaningful friendships.
The hardest part about this transition is seeing these kids move on from such an incredible community. This hasn’t just been a school, it’s been a home away from home for the past five years. It’s forever changed the trajectory of Lila’s life, and no doubt mine as well. It’s been a pretty amazing ride, and I feel so much love and gratitude to everyone who’s been a part of this chapter. And while I’m so sad for what we’re leaving behind, I’m more thankful for everything we’ve gained along the way. And I have to believe we’ve only just begun.