Preschool. One of those ideas that seemed like a good one at the time. I thought it would be easy – drop W off, work at Starbucks, pick W up, continue with work, bask in not having to battle traffic to and from work. If only it were that easy. W has had a really tough time adjusting to preschool and since week 2, I’ve questioned if we started too soon. I’m still not sure. A lot of people have told me that it’s better to do this now. Better to deal with separation anxiety now. Better to have him socialize early on. I’m not so sure. If we had waited until 3, W would have been more mature, may have handled the transition better, and may have actually played with the other children. Or maybe not. I should also mention that this school is not new to W – he’s been attending a parent/child class since 20 months old. One reason we thought the transition would be relatively smooth.
The second week of preschool was absolutely awful. W cried so much he puked. It was terrible for everyone involved – W, myself, and his teachers. I didn’t know what to do. We tried preparing him - reading books about school, talking about activities ahead of time, telling him mommy couldn’t stay and reminding him I would always pick him up. We praised the paintings he brought home and excitedly talked about his school day. Nothing worked. One of W’s teachers suggested that I stay for one class to try to help W get back on track. Hopefully my presence would encourage him to play and enjoy all that school had to offer instead of focusing on my absence. I agreed to try it. W cried for an hour straight the day I stayed. I was ready to give up and just leave. It didn’t help that a visiting grandma commented on W’s constant crying (yet she had to stay to keep her grandson from crying…). Thanks, lady. But after an hour, something changed. W actually stopped crying and started having fun.
Each day, I’d stay for some time (usually about 30-45 minutes) and things got a tiny bit better each time (though there was still plenty of room for improvement). I really appreciated that his teachers were patient and willing to let me stay and help W settle in. But I was still having doubts.
I was staying for a significant amount of time each school day. That meant that I was starting work earlier and working later than I intended. And there were still lots of tears when I eventually left W. It also seemed that all the other children were having an easy time of it and I felt like a failure as a parent. Sometimes I’d stay and watch W through the mirrored window. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. A mistake on my part because watching him cry only made me feel that much worse.
There were two consecutive school days where I watched W and saw him standing at the window looking for me and crying for 15 minutes straight. Although the teachers talked to him a couple times, they just let him be for the most part. I was really upset. Why was W even attending school if no one was comforting him when he was crying? He wasn’t engaged. He wasn’t socializing. What was the point? He certainly wasn’t getting anything out of school by standing at the window crying.
After watching W cry at the window, I had had enough. I texted A with all my concerns. I complained that I was tired of watching W cry. Tired of missing work. The whole experience was very draining. And he texted me back something along the lines of, “Should we pull W out of preschool?”. I wasn’t sure, but before making the decision, I had to talk to his teacher.
There were two turning points for me. 1. I took W to school per usual, said goodbye, and walked to the window so I could wave to him. He was crying as usual. After waving, I tried to go back inside and watch him from the mirrored window again. But this time, the door locked behind me. It was sort of a wakeup call for me. I couldn’t watch him forever. It bothered me that no one was comforting W after I left, but, at some point, I had to trust the teachers. Trust them to watch my W, trust that they’d help him appreciate school. W also needed to learn that other adults could help him, comfort him, play, and teach him. That he didn’t always need mom. Although heartbreaking, I can’t always protect him. That was a tough realization. Of course I knew that I couldn’t keep W home with me forever, but that door locking behind me made me feel like I was handing over control. And 2. When I picked W up that day, I intended on talking to his teacher about all my concerns. The conversation would ultimately determine if we should just quit preschool or keep trying. His teacher told me that W had had a great day. He did cry (of course), but only for a short time. She told me that they had been purposely “ignoring” him while he was at the window crying for me. They were giving him a little space and hoped he would come play when he was ready. Although, I’m not sure I agree with this approach, it made me feel much better knowing that W wasn’t being forgotten, that “ignoring him” was intentional. His teacher then told me that her son was similar. That she had had a hard time leaving him, lots of tears, etc. She thought that W was just a sensitive soul and it was going to take a bit longer for him to adjust, but that she was happy with his progress. At that point, things changed for me. I wasn’t having a conversation parent to teacher, but mom to mom. I knew she understood my feelings and concerns. I knew I wanted to make preschool work for all of us.
Things are still challenging. I still stay with W for a short time at the beginning of class, but when I do leave, the tears are minimal. Crying lasts about 5 minutes as opposed to 1 hour. I’m hoping to get to a point where he doesn’t cry at all. W actually asks to go to school now. While I don’t see him play much with other children, I do see him playing alongside other children. I feel like we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
And a little side note: I’m in class so often, the other children know me. They’ll ask me to build a garage for their cars or take me by the hand to show me a puzzle. Their dinosaurs growl at me and they bring me pretend cupcakes to eat. Not sure if it’s cute or a bit pitiful. :)