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Dec 20 2010

What Not to Do at Your Preschool Interview

By at 8:58 am

What you're not supposed to say about your kid: "We refer to her as the Stroller Nazi."

My older daughter will be ready for preschool next fall, so the Great Preschool Search has begun.

During a visit to a local synagogue program, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a parent interview.  It started out innocently enough, with basic questions about me and my husband.  We explained that I’m a clinical social worker working on my doctorate, and my husband owns a technology company. Apparently my answers were acceptable, as the director of the program was smiling and nodding at me.

I should have anticipated her next question, but for some reason, I didn’t.  “So,” she said innocently enough, “tell me about your daughter.”

“Oh, she’s pretty much your average 2- year-old,” I casually responded. “She poops her pants and has tantrums approximately every four minutes and is obsessed with her baby dolls.  We refer to her as the Stroller Nazi because she absolutely refuses to share her toy stroller during playdates.  You know how it is.”

It was at that point that the smiling and nodding promptly stopped.  The director cleared her throat.

“Well.  Ahem.  I’ve been at this job for almost 10 years and I’ve never heard a parent describe their child as average.”

Really?  I just compared my own daughter to the Third Reich and you’re hung up on the “average” comment?  As I think about it now, I should have said something like, “Seriously?  ‘Cuz when I was touring the classrooms just now I saw one little kid licking a Lego and the other one was painting her legs green.  Your teachers broke up three fights out by the swings in the eight minutes I was watching.”

But I don’t always think so quickly on my feet, and in that moment I felt like I was interviewing for my first job all over again.  I suddenly forgot that I was interviewing them for the opportunity to pay them some obscene amount of money to watch my daughter eat play-doh and cover herself with markers.  But I just got nervous and twitchy and started backpedaling.  Fast.

“Well, um, what I meant to say was that she’s hyper-verbal.  She’s talking up a storm.  She’s only 25 months old and she’s got 9- and 10-word sentences.  She can sing all the words to “Oh Chanukah” but instead of ‘hora’ she says ‘cora’.  It’s just the cutest thing ever.”

At that point I really should have just thanked her for her time, but I was on a roll, and when I get going, there’s just no stopping me.  All of a sudden I got worried that I was bragging too much, and tried to compensate.  “Here’s the thing, though.  She’s not very brave physically, and swings kind of freak her out and she’s scared of tunnels so I’m really glad to see you have such a great playground and my husband is taking her to gymnastics class on Saturdays… before services, of course… so I’m sure that will make a difference.”

By then the Directors’ eyes had glazed over.  I had lost her at “average”.   I felt like an idiot at the time, but looking back, I’m not sure I would do it any differently.  (Ok, maybe I’ll keep the whole “Stroller Nazi” thing to myself next time.)  Although I think my daughter is extraordinary, the truth is, she’s pretty much a regular kid.  And I’m cool with that.  Now I just have to find a preschool that feels the same way.

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3 Responses to What Not to Do at Your Preschool Interview

  1. Josette says:

    Awesome post! I often feel the same way. When I was looking for a preschool for my then-three-year-old son, I would ask questions of the directors but feel like, actually, they were wondering about me: Would I donate money to their “Enhancement” Fund? Would I fit in with the vast majority of moms, who were of the stay-at-home variety? No, I was a working mom who barely had time to do this preschool search in the first place. I would not have time for weekly playdates and could not afford a nanny to pick up my son at 12 pm and spend the rest of the afternoon with him. AND I found it ridiculous that the schools often didn’t begin their year until late Sept. and ended in early June.

  2. Anna says:

    Carla, you’re just not a legitimate super mom if you’re not convinced that your child is above average in every way. I mean, how else can you defend your own parenting style? ;)

  3. signe says:

    Great article Carla! I agree with you that it is surprising and sometimes temporarily disorienting to run into someone who is rigid enough to believe there is somehow only one right way to parent, or perceive your own child etc. Winnicot’s “good enough” parent includes a such wide swath of people and a diverse collection of choices, styles and ability to love. In all fairness though, I guess it is easy for us all to loose perspective sometimes (I have occasionaly been known to do so over naps–I’m rather ridgid about those–but everyone needs to channel their anxiety somewhere). But at the end of the day, I agree with Winnicot, the important thing is to be empathic, loving, and responsive enough to the child’s needs. Thankfuly most of us on the planet have the capacity to do that. You, my friend, make the cut easily.


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