I am an old mom. I’m also a shocked mom—my husband and I were living large and childless and planning to keep it that way when I became pregnant at almost 40. It’s taken me a little longer than most to figure out the mom basics.
Stupidly, I thought I could just sign my daughter up at a preschool of her choice, not realizing I would be flashing back to my ‘90s era college admission process, all without the possibility of a scholarship or a student loan. “Don’t you realize, Carey, that you have to research schools two years ahead of time?” a friend tells me. Apparently, when my daughter was still pooping her pants and I was in a sleep-deprived stupor, I was supposed to be deciding on her academic future.
Even though I’m late in the process—my daughter just turned 3—I decided to visit a few schools. I live 30 miles outside of the city, so I’m closest mainly to suburban schools and park districts. There’s Waldorf, an exorbitantly pricey school that only allows children to play with natural toys. I saw a faceless cloth doll, some nude blocks, and felt fabric posing as water on their website and think, wow, my daughter’s Barbies would not be welcome here. We didn’t even bother visiting.
OK, so we crossed that one off the list and visited a Montessori school. It costs close to $5,000 a year for their part-time program and over $10,000 a year for full-time kindergarten. I got a B.A. for less than that. We visited anyway because my friends keep telling me my child will not be “socialized” if she doesn’t attend school. The socialization process of these Montessori geniuses amounts to following the teacher’s directions, taking turns with toys without killing one another, and standing in line quietly. They sing a song about how life on our planet began, which I assume is supposed to prepare them for deep science study in their high school years. I’m pretty sure I can accomplish these goals without taking out a second mortgage. I admit that their “manipulatives” are pretty cool, but I think I can probably fashion similar learning tools out of felt (thanks, Waldorf, for the felt idea).
My daughter has never been in a daycare situation, so I crossed off all the daycares that are pretending to be preschools. I started to consider homeschool preschool, but seeing as she’s an only child, that wouldn’t exactly help with the “socialization” issue. Isn’t there some kind of toddler juice mixer in the area that costs less than $5,000?
At our three-year medical check-up, I mentioned our preschool problem to my doctor, hoping for some kind of reassurance. “Is preschool really necessary?” I asked. I was told it’s going to be very difficult to start five-day kindergarten if my daughter doesn’t first do a two or three-day preschool. The doctor suggested we join some groups so my daughter can begin to feel comfortable around other children. She also said it’s odd that my daughter doesn’t show much interest in other 3-year-olds and avoids them if at all possible. (When I asked my daughter how she liked the school we visited, she said, “It was good but it had damn kids.”)
It’s true: So far, most of her experiences with other toddlers and preschoolers have not been great. There are the older girls who try to hug or grab her, or just try bossing her around, but my daughter won’t stand for any of that. Then there are the children who get right up in her face and start asking her questions: “What’s your name want to play why aren’t you talking?” Of course, who can forget the rowdy ones that just grab toys right out of her hands, leaving her toy-less and crying? I don’t like these preschoolers, so I’m not really surprised my daughter isn’t interested in them, either. Then again, I’m not sure what child would be interested in her sociopathic stare down alternating with ear-piercing screams for mommy.
I’m getting the sense that preschoolers as a group really don’t have social skills, and at best all they can do is follow an adult or sit in a circle if there’s a taped line on the floor. I’m not sure those life skills are worth $5,000-$10,000 a year.
Still, I compromised and signed up for a few art and story time classes that allow parents to sit in. At least there’s no admission process, and I don’t need a part-time job to pay the tuition.