A few years ago I was that nursery school mom with a son in the 3’s class, a daughter in the 2’s class, and a new baby, born seven weeks into the school year. Whether that was a well-thought out plan or not didn’t really occur to me in those early years; it just was. I saw those other moms whose last child was going through nursery school and although logically I knew that they must have done this dance with their older ones as well, it was pretty impossible to imagine. Yet now, I have the luxury of walking my youngest daughter–my 5-year-old–to her pre-K class without carrying a crying baby, pushing a stroller, or feeling nauseous from morning sickness. Now I watch the other moms drop off their preschooler and come outside still holding another child (or two) and I’m sure they can’t imagine a day when they’ll walk out that door alone.
And now we approach the end of an era in my family. My children have spent a combined 10 years at one Jewish nursery school–as a family, we’ve been there for seven consecutive years. We’re not particularly unique, we haven’t set any kind of record, lots of families have come and gone. But for our family (or maybe just me!) it certainly feels like a milestone. At the very least, a time to take pause and appreciate what’s gone by.
Nobody in our house spits up anymore. Our days of diapers, sippy cups, pacifiers, strollers, and cribs are gone. Nobody says “baby suit” when she means “bathing suit.” Nobody tells us that “Purple Barney” is his favorite color, or says they “bless you’d” when what they did was sneezed. There’s no one left here who believes “tilapia chicken” isn’t fish. No more rear-facing car seats, or high chairs, or boosters, or even those cute plastic sectioned-off plates. Baby gates, infant tubs, pack-and-plays, and swaddle blankets are all a distant memory.
When my oldest was born, I read every book there was about babies. I knew about routines, and sleep and feeding, and then tantrums, and picky eaters, and growth trends. I read articles, and asked doctors, and posted questions on listservs filled with people just like me. I had it all figured out when my second came along, only it turned out she wasn’t anything like the first. None of the old rules applied and I was back to knowing nothing. My third–well, she was totally different from the first and the second, but by then, so was I.
I no longer believed that other people knew more about my kids than I did. I became way more cautious about doling out advice to other new moms because it turned out that generic guidance only worked on generic kids, and I had never met one of those. “One, two, three” is only magic if a child has the ability to master control over her emotions; teaching “stranger danger” is crucial for the child who fears nothing, but has quite a different effect on the child who fears everything; implementing a schedule for the first baby is fairly straight-forward, but the rhythms of subsequent babies are entirely dependent upon the needs of those that came first.
I’m not under the impression that I handled those early years with any amount of grace. Most of the time, I was tired and overwhelmed, wondering how anyone could suggest that I “cherish every moment” because “it all goes so fast.” Of course, I always felt blessed by these three amazing people in my life–but their ever-changing needs and the day in and day out of early childhood was not always simple.
My real saving grace was the Jewish nursery school community, particularly the teachers. At the outset, I only thought about how they would relate to our children. In the end, I know that as much as they instilled in our kids, they may have had an even more profound impact on me. I learned about the parent I wanted to be by watching them, learning from them, and drawing from their patience, strength and creativity on the (many) days that I was in short supply. They helped me see my children through someone else’s less tired, less overwhelmed eyes and pointed out their greatest strengths on my most challenging days. I really cannot think of a more precious gift, as my family bids farewell to the early childhood years.