This past summer, my husband and I decided to send our toddler to Jewish preschool. We agonized over our budget to see if we could make it work. I read up on gentle separation techniques and ordered him a backpack. Since the arrival of our second baby coincided with the start of the school year, we wanted to wait until the after the new year for him to start.
January felt so far away at that point.
Fast forward to last week. And by fast forward I mean three months of figuring out the logistics of raising two kids, getting dinner on the table, and exactly how many consecutive days one can use dry shampoo without looking like Nick Nolte’s mug shot (the answer is two). And here we are at our scheduled December meeting with the preschool director to discuss my toddler joining the class in a few weeks.
We thought our son might benefit from the increased social interaction preschool offers. I vetted all of the best options. I considered how I felt about him learning the Lord’s Prayer at a perfectly good school that was half the price of one that offered grape juice and challah for snack on Fridays. I didn’t even know how strongly I felt about Jewish preschool until I was willing to sacrifice our never eating out again to send him there. I found the perfect match for us. The space is cozy and not at all intimidating. The teachers are sweet and my son knows several of the children already. I felt good about our decision.
Until last week when I realized I’d actually have to take him there soon and I broke down in a pile of sappy Mama tears and excuses. It’s too expensive; it’s complicated for me to get two kids ready in time for drop off; he’s had a rough adjustment to our new family dynamic, sending him to school now might seem like I’m pushing him away. It might snow soon. The list goes on.
But to be truly honest, I’m the one who isn’t ready. Sending him to school is a weaning process, weaning him from me: my words, my embrace, my daily influence on his every moment. When my son says something I didn’t teach him or don’t normally say like, “If my toy goes down the bath drain it will get stuck in the pipes and we will call the plumber!” I know the only place he could have gotten it from is the 15 minute episodes of Curious George that he watches (George clogged the drain with toys and flooded his entire apartment building, you know, because he’s curious.) Me, my husband, our playdates, even George–we’ve helped to shape every thought in my son’s mind for nearly three years.
And it’s not to say he wouldn’t benefit from some outside influence. He might see other kids using the potty and not be afraid. He might try something he’s never eaten or explore his imagination in a new environment. He’d sing songs about the days of the week, stand in cue, and count marbles at a table surrounded by–people that aren’t me.
When I met with the director I told her that we’ve decided not to send him right now but what I really wanted to say was, “I’m not ready to give him to you yet.” Not for six hours a week, not three. Not even one. And while I didn’t say it with words, my tears told her empathetic face that I wasn’t ready. That it was me, not him.
So I bought a huge wall calendar with picture pockets so we can learn the days of the week and talk about the weather. I signed us up for music classes that he will take along with me and his baby brother. We’ll continue our weekly playgroup, museum visits, and afternoons making cookies and play dough. I’ll still to take him to Tot Shabbat on Fridays and we’ll light candles at home and sing the Shema before bed. I want to watch him grow and learn and celebrate the last magical moments of being 2, with me. And my heart is completely at peace with this decision.
I’m in no way judging anyone’s choice to send or not send their child to preschool. I’m simply doing what feels right for our family. I could have sent him and enjoyed time with just the baby and my toddler would have thrived in a room full of new friends. But the rest of his life will be spent in classrooms, with friends, learning new things from people other than me. I loved him on the inside for nine months before sharing him with the world, and now I’m going to keep him to myself a little longer. Because in the words of Chief Justice Rehnquist, “If you want to spend time with your young children, you have to do it while they’re young.”