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.